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IDF Announces Discovery of First Hezbollah Terror Tunnel, Launches Operation Northern Shield

The IDF announced that it had located a terror tunnel, constructed by Hezbollah, that extended 40 meters (131 feet) into Israel, as it launched Operation Northern Shield, a campaign to eliminate the threat of terror tunnels along Israel’s northern border, The Jerusalem Post reported Tuesday.

The first tunnel, which, according to the IDF, took two years to build and was equipped with electricity, ventilation, and communication infrastructure, extended 600 feet from the southern Lebanese village of Kfar Kila. It was six feet high and six feet wide.

“The digging of the cross-border attack tunnels that the IDF has discovered before the attack tunnels became operational and posed an imminent threat to the safety of Israeli civilians, constitutes a flagrant and severe violation of Israeli sovereignty,” IDF Spokesperson Brig.-Gen. Ronen Manelis said in a statement.

According to Manelis, the goal of the operation is to locate and destroy all the terror tunnels along the border. The operation is expected to take a long time. The spokesperson explained that Hezbollah for years has been saying that its goal in the next war with Israel would be to “liberate” the Galilee.

“We are prepared for all options, and the operation is only in its first day. The neutralizing of the tunnels will not necessarily take place within our territory,” Manelis continued.

Manelis also said that the tunnel’s entrance was in a house in the village, an indication of Hezbollah’s tactic of using civilian infrastructure and human shields to protect its military buildup.

This is consistent with the assessment of  IDF chief of staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, who warned in June of last year that Hezbollah has a presence in “every third or fourth house” in southern Lebanon. He indicated that the group is ensconced in some 240 villages and towns in the area, and receives sophisticated weaponry from Iran, some of which is supplied by Russia.

Operation Northern Shield will be commanded by OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Yoel Strick, and will involve troops from the IDF’s Combat Engineering Corps, and its Intelligence Branch. The Defense Ministry’s Administration for the Development of Weapons and Technological Infrastructure (MAFAT) will also play a role.

“For a number of years, the IDF General Staff has been leading this effort, which recently reached the necessary operational conditions,” the army explained in a statement.

The IDF also said that though it was prepared to respond to an escalation from Hezbollah in response to the operation, it was not issuing special instructions for Israel’s northern residents at this time.

Recent developments have pointed towards an escalation on Israel’s northern border.

In his speech before the United Nations General Assembly in September, Netanyahu warned, “in Lebanon, Iran is directing Hezbollah to build secret sites to convert inaccurate projectiles into precision-guided missiles, missiles that can target deep inside Israel within an accuracy of ten meters.” He also noted that Hezbollah was “using the innocent people of Beirut as human shields” as the missile conversion facility was located right next to Beirut’s international airport.

Last Thursday, the IDF charged that an Iranian civilian flight landed in Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport carrying arms to Hezbollah.

Overnight Thursday, the IDF reportedly struck targets, possibly including a weapons convoy, in southern Syria.

On Friday, it was reported that Hezbollah released a video purporting to show attacks against Israeli strategic assets, including its nuclear reactor in Dimona, with a message from its chairman, Hassan Nasrallah, “if you dare attack, you will regret it.”

[Photo: Israel Defense Forces / YouTube ]