The IDF launched Operation Northern Shield overnight on Monday to expose and destroy cross-border attack tunnels built by Hezbollah, a proxy of Iran, along the Lebanon border and into northern Israel, the military announced early Tuesday morning.
“The digging of tunnels constitutes a blatant violation of Israeli sovereignty,” said IDF Spokesperson Brig.-Gen. Ronen Manelis.
The objective of the operation is to expose and neutralize all Hezbollah attack tunnels which have crossed into Israeli territory. The operation will take place all along the "Blue Line," the name for the international border between Israel and Lebanon and strictly within Israeli territory.
It will be led by the OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Yoel Strick and will include troops from the Combat Engineering Corps, the Intelligence Branch, as well as the Defense Ministry’s Administration for the Development of Weapons and Technological Infrastructure (MAFAT) will take part.
The military stated that a number of areas close to the security fence with Lebanon, including Metula, have been declared a closed military zone and that it has beefed up troop numbers in the Northern Command ahead of all possible scenarios. No reservists have been called up.Preperations for 'Operation Northern Shield'
While the IDF stressed that it is prepared for any escalation with Hezbollah that could stem from the operation, there are no special instructions for the residents of the North. The IDF updated the heads of local authorities overnight and will continue to be in contact with them throughout the operation.
"We are in full control of the situation and are determined to remove the underground Hezbollah threat from the northern border," the spokesman said on a call with reporters. "The tunnels do cross into Israeli territory, but the work on them was not complete."
According to Manelis, the Lebanese government is responsible for all that occurs on Lebanese soil and the digging of the tunnels shows that the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) is not capable of controlling what occurs in southern Lebanon.
“This is also more proof of the grave violations by Hezbollah, which blatantly ignores UN resolutions, especially Resolution 1701, and operates from villages in southern Lebanon, while harming the state of Lebanon and its citizens,” Manelis said, adding that “The Hezbollah terrorist organization, which is behind the digging of the tunnels, continues to operate with the support and funding of Iran in order to carry out terror activity against Israeli citizens.”
Hezbollah, which is supported by the majority of the Shi'ite population in Lebanon, has not only inserted itself into every aspect of civilian life but is said to be using private homes to store its weapons warehouses and missile launchers. It has rebuilt its missile arsenal since the Second Lebanon War in 2006 with the aid of Iran.
While Israeli defense officials repeatedly denied the existence of cross-border Hezbollah tunnels, despite residents of northern Israel warning of weird sounds underground, the military admitted on Tuesday that it had been aware of Hezbollah efforts to build attack tunnels stretching into Israel at several points along the border after the Second Lebanon War.
After Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza in 2014 - during which Hamas used tunnels to enter Israel - the military decided to form a special team in the Northern Command to more seriously explore the threat along the border with Lebanon.The evolution of terror attack tunnels against Israel and Israel's responses
In 2015, the Lebanese daily As-safir published a series of reports about Hezbollah’s preparation for war against Israel, which included a sprawling underground network of highly-advanced tunnels housing thousands of rockets ready to be launched.
According to the report, the tunnels, which have secondary escape shafts, are built with durable concrete and have a 24-hour power supply via underground generators as well as a ventilation system to protect military equipment.
Hezbollah’s elite Radwan unit in the next war is expected to attempt to capture an Israeli community or military outpost and as part of preparations for this threat, Israel has invested significant amounts of money and effort into strengthening its defenses along the border with Lebanon in recent years.
To prevent any such ground attack by the group, Israel has created obstacles, such as artificial cliffs and is currently building high concrete barriers all along the Lebanese border in the areas of the Sulam Ridge, Metula and Misgav Am to the south and east of the Blue Line.
The barrier is expected to be completed in the coming months.
The IDF has carried out several large-scale drills simulating war with the Lebanese terror group in the past year and according to the military Israel’s intelligence capabilities has increased dramatically since the Second Lebanon War in 2006 and has five times the number of targets in the north if another war were to break out.
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