Israeli anti-tunnel operation 'paves the way for Lebanon war'

Israeli anti-tunnel operation 'paves the way for Lebanon war'
The Israeli military launched an open-ended operation on Tuesday to destroy what it said was a network of attack tunnels built by Lebanese militant group Hizballah.
4 min read
05 December, 2018
The Israeli military launched an open-ended operation on Tuesday. [Getty]

Israeli excavations to destroy a network of tunnels allegedly built by Hizballah continued on Wednesday as reports suggest the military operation could take weeks to complete, with experts saying its main objective is to pave the way for a war with Lebanon.

The Israeli military launched the open-ended operation on Tuesday to destroy what it said was a network of attack tunnels built by Hizballah.

Israeli forces did not enter Lebanese territory, and there was no immediate reaction from Hizballah. But the Israeli announcement threatened to push the bitter enemies closer to an open confrontation for the first time since a bruising 2006 war

Israeli army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus said on Tuesday that the "attack tunnels" were not yet operational. He declined to say how many had been detected or how they would be destroyed.

Israeli media reported that a state of high alert had been announced in the country's north, with operations expected to continue for several weeks.

The military said it had located one such tunnel dug from a home in the Kafr Kila area of south Lebanon that crossed into Israeli territory and was working to "neutralise" it.

The tunnel runs some 200 metres, at a depth of 25 metres, Conricus said, and stretches some 40 metres into Israel.

The area around the Israeli town of Metula has been declared a closed military zone, with the army distributing images of heavy machinery digging into the ground.

The Israeli operation aims to achieve a raft of political and strategic objectives, the most important of which is to "launch a psychological war with Lebanon and increase internal pressure against Hizballah amid an ongoing political crisis," said Nedal Wattad, Al-Araby al-Jadeed's reporter in Jerusalem.

Wattad said Israel is seeking to shift the confrontation with Hizballah back to Lebanon from Syria, where Israeli freedom of operation has been curtailed by Russia in recent months, and pave the way for war in Lebanon by appearing to be defending itself from Hizballah's 'incursions'. 

On Wednesday, Israeli army spokesman Avichay Adraee tweeted that the operations to destroy the tunnels in northern Israel will continue as part of operation "Northern Shield".

The army's Arabic spokesperson shared satellite pictures alleging to show a cement block factory which he claimed Hizballah had turned into the "starting point of the attack tunnel."

"The building was used until 2014 as a [cement] block factory. It falls within meters from [where] UNIFIL conducts its patrols. The tunnel starts at the [factory] building and crosses the Blue Line and stretches 40 meters into Israel," Adraee claimed.

Adraee said Israeli military excavations were taking place in three areas along the Israeli side of the border.

The Israeli operation began on Tuesday shortly after Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu returned from a surprise trip to Brussels to meet US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Netanyahu said he had discussed the operation with Pompeo, and he planned to talk to other world leaders, including the UN secretary-general.

President Donald Trump's national security advisor John Bolton said that "the US strongly supports Israel's efforts to defend its sovereignty."

UN peacekeepers said they increased patrols on the Lebanese-Israeli border on Tuesday after Israel announced its operation.

"The overall situation in UNIFIL's area of operation remains calm," Joumana Sayegh, a spokeswoman for the UN mission which monitors the border region, said in a statement.

"UNIFIL is working with all interlocutors in order to maintain the overall stability," she said.

Lebanon's army also said it was monitoring the situation closely.

"Army units deployed in the area are carrying out their usual missions along the border in cooperation and coordination with UNIFIL," it said.

In 2006, a month-long war between Israel and Hizballah killed more than 1,200 Lebanese civilians, displaced over one million, and devastated infrastructure in the country.

Tens of thousands of Lebanese homes were destroyed or damaged by intense Israeli artillery and naval bombardments. 

Israel occupied swathes of southern Lebanon for 15 years, withdrawing from the country in 2000 after its South Lebanon Army (SLA) ally collapsed and Hizballah forces gained ground in the area.

Agencies contributed to this report.

Follow us on Twitter: @The_NewArab