On Dec. 4, 2018, Israel launched “Operation Northern Shield” to find and destroy tunnels excavated by Hezbollah under its northern border, which constitutes a violation of UNSC Resolution 1701.[1] Two days later, a UNIFIL delegation visiting the location confirmed the existence of a tunnel there.[2]

So far, Hezbollah has been careful to issue no official reactions on the matter of the tunnels. The pro-Hezbollah media have denied their existence and claimed that any statements to the contrary are lies.[3] In a threatening message conveyed via its media, Hezbollah included photos of Israeli soldiers at the border taken from the Lebanese side to show that the soldiers are within striking distance.[4]

Hezbollah elements, headed by Hezbollah deputy secretary-general Na’im Qassem, sought to reassure the Lebanese public with the argument that Hezbollah’s deterrence capabilities  would dissuade Israel from carrying out an extensive attack in Lebanon. He said: “The Israeli home front is exposed as far as Tel Aviv, and there is not a single point in the Zionist entity that is not exposed to Hezbollah’s missiles. … The Israelis cannot withstand [a war], so the idea of [going to] war against Lebanon is inconceivable to them.”[5]

Lebanon’s official position on the tunnels issue ranges from denying that they even exist to claiming that it is Israel that is violating U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, while Lebanon is being careful to uphold it. Thus, Lebanese President Michel Aoun, a Hezbollah ally, said at a meeting with UNIFIL Head of Mission and Force Commander Major-General Stefano Del Col that Israel is violating the international resolutions, while his country is implementing Resolution 1701 and is opposing any activity that is likely to complicate the border situation.[6] Speaker of the Parliament of Lebanon Nabih Berri, who is also an ally of Hezbollah, called Israel’s claims baseless.[7] The Al-Nahar daily reported that Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, another Hezbollah ally, had ordered his office to prepare a complaint to the UNSC about Israel’s “repeated” violations against Lebanon. Lebanese Prime Minister Sa’d Al-Hariri, who opposes Hezbollah, also argued that it is Israel that is violating 1701, that the Lebanese Army is in charge of border security and legitimately controls the entire border, and that the Lebanese government is determined to meet its obligations regarding its sovereignty and the integrity of its border, and stresses that the rules that were created in accordance with Resolution 1701 must not be violated. He added that the developments on the border should not constitute a reason for escalation. [8]

However, voices contradicting the official position have emerged, largely among the Christian community, criticizing Hezbollah for the tunnels and expressing apprehension about the ramifications this could have for Lebanon. The Lebanese government itself was also criticized for failing to enforce its control over Hezbollah and for its apparent ignorance of what Hezbollah is doing, which could drag the country into a war.

It should be noted that similar criticism was expressed by Bahraini Foreign Minister Khaled bin Ahmad Aal Khalifa, who according to one report represents the position of other Gulf states as well, headed by Saudi Arabia, which are known for their hostility towards Hezbollah.[9] Bin Ahmad tweeted: “Does the fact that the terrorist Hezbollah is excavating tunnels through the Lebanese border not constitute a clear threat to Lebanon’s stability—and is [Hezbollah] not a partner in ruling [the country]? Who will be responsible when the neighboring countries take it upon themselves to get rid of this danger that threatens them?” He also tweeted: “Lebanon has chosen ‘to cut itself off’[10] from the Arabs, and now it is cutting itself off from itself and from peace at its border.”[11]

This report reviews criticism in Lebanon of Hezbollah’s tunnels under the Lebanon-Israel border:

Officials from Christian parties: ‘The government must prevent Hezbollah activity that endangers Lebanon’

Senior Christian politicians in Lebanon criticized both Hezbollah, which they said is endangering Lebanon with a war that could cost it dearly, and the government, which they said is ignorant of what Hezbollah is doing and what is happening on its sovereign soil.

Samy Gemayel: ‘Hezbollah has a green light to do as it wishes, and to entangle the state in problems’

Lebanese MP Samy Gemayel,  who heads the Phalange party, called on UNIFIL to intervene quickly and to examine the circumstances of the incident because it is “very dangerous, and the entire region cannot bear [the consequences] of mistakes of this kind.”[12] He also criticized the Lebanese government: “None of the Lebanese state officials knows whether [the tunnels] exist or not, even though they are on Lebanese soil. Hezbollah has a green light to do as it wishes, and to entangle the state in problems to which we have no connection, and which the state has not decided on. The state will pay the price for them, as happened in the July 2006 war.”[13]

Samir Geagea: ‘The government must officially ask Hezbollah to stop all activity that can endanger Lebanon’

Samir Geagea, head of the Lebanese Forces Party, called on the government to urgently discuss the developments in the south of the country. On Dec. 6, 2018, even before UNIFIL confirmed the presence of a Hezbollah tunnel into Israeli territory, Geagea said that if UNIFIL confirmed Israel’s claims, “the government must officially ask Hezbollah to stop all activity that can endanger Lebanon and the Lebanese and must again remind Hezbollah that the military and security decisions are in the hands of the government alone.”

He added that if Israel’s claims about the tunnels turned out to be untrue, the Lebanese government must act against it on the diplomatic level among the UNSC members. Several days later, after UNIFIL confirmed the existence of a tunnel, the party called on the Lebanese government to convene an immediate session and officially demand that Hezbollah stop this activity. In a statement it issued, it stressed that the government alone has the authority to decide on the methods of confronting Israel.[15]

Full report at MEMRI.