As the IDF operates against Hezbollah tunnels from Lebanon, it has also reportedly resumed air operations over the northern border with Syria and Lebanon.
Two weeks ago, the IDF initiated Operation Northern Shield to counter Hezbollah tunnels that crossed into Israel. To date, four tunnels have been discovered.
The tunnel threat is becoming an international issue. The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), charged with monitoring the border between Israel and Lebanon, acknowledged on Monday that the existence of four tunnel with two penetrating into Israel. UNIFIL further acknowledged that these tunnels violate UN Security Council Resolution 1701, saying they are “a matter of serious concern.” UNIFIL contacted the Lebanese government, requesting they “ensure urgent follow-up actions in accordance with [their] responsibilities.”
In a statement posted to twitter, the IDF noted a serious omission from the UNIFIL statement: the tunnels were dug by Hezbollah.
.@UN INDEPENDENTLY CONFIRMS:
✔Lebanon’s violation of Israeli sovereignty and UN Resolution 1701.
✔ 4 tunnels found.
✔ 2 tunnels so far confirmed to cross the UN-recognized Blue Line into Israel.
Missing information from their statement: who dug these tunnels? Hezbollah. https://t.co/xCJG9yxQ6Q
— Israel Defense Forces (@IDF) December 17, 2018
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri met with with UNIFIL commander Maj. Gen. Stefano Del Col on Monday, assuring him that his country would do anything necessary to fulfill its obligations according to Resolution 1701. He also accused Israel of routinely violating the resolution by violating Lebanese airspace and territorial waters.
Israel turned to their ally, the United States, requesting they pressure the Lebanese Army into helping cope with the threat from their side of the border. Al-Akhbar newspaper, a Beirut news service, reported that Israel requested the U.S. government threaten to withhold military aid until the Lebanese Army works to uncover tunnels on the Lebanese side.
Even Russia has gotten involved. Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, an international Arabic-language news service based in London, reported that an IDF delegation visited Moscow last week to discuss Operation Northern Shield. Russia reportedly backed the Israeli operation on the condition it does not violate Resolution 1701. The Russian government has also demanded the Lebanese Army take action against the tunnels.
Hezbollah responded by sending in operatives to seal off the tunnels. Debka File, an Israeli military intelligence news site, reported that Hezbollah pulled back from the border on Monday, moving its command center further north to Tyre. In addition, Hezbollah personnel abandoned watchtowers positioned along the border to observe the IDF. Debka File also noted that other Hezbollah assets, such as observers disguised as shepherds and Hezbollah vehicles, were conspicuously absent from their usual positions near the border.
Imagine terrorists digging an attack tunnel like this towards your home. Hacking away inch by inch underground in order to kill you & your family. Israelis don't need to imagine. It’s our job to protect them.
We just found a FOURTH Hezbollah tunnel dug from Lebanon into Israel. pic.twitter.com/PkHaTrrvDa
— Israel Defense Forces (@IDF) December 16, 2018
Debka File suggested two possible motives behind the Hezbollah moves:
“One theory to account for Hizballah’s [sic] abrupt distancing of its S. Lebanese units from contact with the IDF is that it is part of a strategy for fending off a US condemnation resolution at the UN Security Council on Wednesday, Dec. 19,” Debka File wrote. “Another is that the IDF will soon finish uncovering the rest of the Hizballah tunnels and, when that happens, a clash of arms may be expected. Hizballah is preparing for that moment by aligning its military at arm’s length from the IDF.”
Debka File also reported that for the first time since September, the IDF flew over the northern section of the border separating Syria from Lebanon. After admitting to carrying out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria against Iranian and Hezbollah military assets, IDF operations north of the border were curtailed after a Russian military plane was downed by the Syrian military in September. The Russian plane was shot down by the Syrian military shortly after an Israeli airstrike. Russia has a significant military presence in Syria including advanced anti-air systems. Debka File conjectured that the recent Israeli air missions indicated renewed military cooperation between Israel and Russia.
In addition to the tunnels, Hezbollah has an estimated arsenal of approximately 100,000-150,000 short-and medium-range missiles and rockets, as well as several hundred long-range missiles.