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As Israel Launches Operation To Destroy Hizbullah Cross-Border Tunnels, Netanyahu Warns Of Military Action In Lebanon
Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah delivers a televised address to supporters. (Stringer/AFP/Getty Images)

As Israel Launches Operation To Destroy Hizbullah Cross-Border Tunnels, Netanyahu Warns Of Military Action In Lebanon

Israeli premier reportedly tells top American diplomat that the IDF will do what is necessary to prevent Hizbullah’s acquisition of precision-guided missiles

The Israel Defense Forces overnight Monday launched Operation Northern Shield to uncover and destroy cross-border attack tunnels built by Iranian proxy Hizbullah. “The digging of tunnels constitutes a blatant violation of Israeli sovereignty,” army spokesperson Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis asserted in reference to the subterranean structures that originate in Lebanon and extend into the Jewish state.

He noted that the operation is taking place uniquely on the Israeli side of the shared border, but that the IDF nevertheless beefed up its troop presence in areas that have been declared closed military zones in the eventuality clashes erupt. Manelis also stressed that Jerusalem holds Beirut responsible for all hostilities originating from its soil and that the existence of attack tunnels proves its inability to prevent Hizbullah’s militarization of the country’s south, which according to United Nations resolution 1701 is meant to be an arms-free buffer zone.

Analysts predict that in the next round of conflict Hizbullah operatives will attempt to infiltrate Israel using underground passageways with a view to possibly even capturing northern communities. In fact, Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah repeatedly has threatened to occupy the Galilee in a future war, although the prospect of a large-scale ground invasion is considered unlikely due to defensive measures implemented by Israel along the frontier.

“A full picture of the extent of what Hizbullah has been able to build over the last few years is only becoming apparent as this operation unfolds,” Col. (res.) Dr. Eran Lerman, a former Israeli deputy national security adviser and presently Vice President of the Jerusalem Institute for Security Studies, explained to The Media Line. “The purpose of the tunnel system [in the north] is different from that [of Hamas’] in the Gaza Strip. It is not just for short raids or kidnappings; it is meant as a means to take hold of Israeli territory.

“This is geared towards deterring Israel from attacking Hizbullah, which, in turn, serves Iran’s interests by raising the stakes associated with IDF strikes against its military facilities [in Syria]. I think we need to take into account the possibility that some of our infrastructure could be targeted moving forward.

“It is precisely because of this threat,” he concluded, “that the Israeli government is taking measures to reduce Hizbullah’s capabilities. This also aligns with the broader struggle with Tehran that is closely coordinated with the American administration.”

Indeed, the Israeli operation was announced hours after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu met with top United States diplomat Mike Pompeo in Brussels, where he reportedly warned that Jerusalem will take matters into its own hands unless the international community cracks down on Hizbullah. The premier has for months been sounding the alarm over Hizbullah’s construction—at the behest of its Iranian patron—of underground factories capable of producing precision-guided missiles that can reach anywhere in Israel. This, amid reports that Tehran has started transferring weapons directly to its underling through Beirut, as opposed to via Syria where Israel has conducted hundreds of aerial strikes to destroy Iranian assets.

For his part, Pompeo reiterated Washington’s commitment to “confronting the totality of the Iranian regime’s threats through maximum pressure,” adding that the U.S. supports the Jewish state’s “absolute right to self-defense.”

“Netanyahu gave notice to the secretary of state, which amounts to the Israelis alerting the Americans,” Lenny Ben-David, formerly the deputy chief of mission at the Israeli Embassy in Washington and currently Director of Publications at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, conveyed to The Media Line. “Intelligence sharing is done over a period of time and the sides are in such close contact that this was not sprung [out of the blue].

“Israel is very serious [as Iran apparently provided Hizbullah with GPS components] that can be used to transform ‘dumb’ rockets into ‘smart’ missiles,” he elaborated. “These can strike within 15 meters of their intended target, so Israel will not permit this development no matter what.”

The latest developments come on the backdrop of the Trump administration’s withdrawal in May from the 2015 nuclear accord and subsequent restoration of sanctions on the Islamic Republic’s crucial energy, shipping and banking sectors. Moreover, Pompeo this weekend accused Iran of violating a United Nations resolution by testing a medium-range ballistic missile “capable of carrying multiple warheads” that can reach parts of Europe.

Meanwhile, Israel’s security cabinet was slated to meet Tuesday night to discuss the situation in the north.

(Tara Kavaler is an intern in The Media Line’s Press and Policy Student Program)

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