Netanyahu tipped off US defence secretary before Hizballah tunnel bombing

Netanyahu tipped off US defence secretary before Hizballah tunnel bombing
The White House has since said it "strongly supports" Israel's Operation Northern Shield in Lebanon.
3 min read
04 December, 2018
Netanyahu met with Pompeo in Brussels on Monday [Getty]

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told US Defence Secretary Mike Pompeo of a plan to bomb Hizballah tunnels under the border with Lebanon a day before launching "Operation Northern Shield".

The White House has since given its full backing to the Israeli army's aim to destroy tunnels built by the Iran-backed group.

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

"More broadly, we call on Iran and all of its agents to stop their regional aggression and provocation, which pose an unacceptable threat to Israeli and regional security," Bolton said.

Israel's surprise announcement came hours after Netanyahu met with Pompeo in Brussels over regional dangers, with both having repeatedly warned about the activities of Iran.

Netanyahu said he discussed the operation with Pompeo and called the tunnels a violation of a UN resolution aimed at ending a 2006 war between Israel and Shia militant group Hizballah.

Israeli army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus said the "attack tunnels" were not yet operational. He declined to say how many were detected, when they reached Israeli territory and how they would be destroyed. 

Later the military specified it had located one such tunnel dug from a home in the area of Kafr Kela in southern Lebanon that crossed into its territory and was working to "neutralise" it.

The tunnel stretched some 200 metres (660 feet), at a depth of around 25 metres, Conricus said.

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.

A UN peacekeeping force which monitors the border region said it had increased patrols but noted the area remained calm.

Lebanon's army also said it was monitoring the situation closely, while Hizballah had not reacted.

Netanyahu has spoken of a sensitive security situation in recent days without providing details, particularly after defence minister Avigdor Lieberman quit over a controversial Gaza ceasefire last month.

The prime minister is also facing further political pressure after Israeli police on Sunday recommended he and his wife Sara be indicted for bribery, the third such recommendation against the premier in recent months.

Conricus rejected suggestions of politics influencing the announcement.

Netanyahu has pledged to stop Iran from entrenching itself militarily in Syria and to keep it from transferring advanced weapons to its ally Hizballah in Lebanon.

It has carried out hundreds of air strikes in Syria against what it says are Iranian military targets and deliveries of advanced arms to Hizballah.

However, a friendly fire incident in Syria in September that led to the downing of a Russian plane by Syrian air defences during an Israeli strike has complicated Israeli operations there.

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