After the Israeli military announced the discovery of several Hezbollah attack tunnels near its northernmost border with Lebanon, Metula resident Michael Mezeika noted that “not a lot of people in the world have to deal with the fact that there is a terrorist group less than 100 meters from them trying to dig tunnels under their bedrooms.”
Metula, with a population of about 1,600, sits right next to the border.
The Israel Defense Forces made their findings public last week as part of a new effort called “Operation Northern Shield.”
In an article in June 2017, I warned that Iranian-backed Hezbollah, which exercises significant power inside Lebanon, deploys civilians as human shields and intentionally operates from within urban centers to maximize civilian casualties in any future conflict with Israel.
Those warnings have now been confirmed. As part of “Operation Northern Shield,” the IDF exposed and eliminated underground attack tunnels that Hezbollah dug from Lebanon into Israel with the intention to seize entire Israeli communities and “liberate” parts of the Galilee panhandle.
The United Nations peacekeeping force, UNIFIL, confirmed on Thursday the existence of the tunnel system, describing it as a “serious occurrence.”
The operation began shortly after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returned from a trip to Brussels to meet U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The Secretary remarked that “these tunnels are Iranian-connected Lebanese Hezbollah efforts to violate the most basic premise of sovereignty.”
Under the U.N. resolution that ended the 2006 Lebanon war, all armed groups are barred from operating in southern Lebanon. However, Mezeika said residents in Metula had been hearing digging noises for years and “been waiting for something like this” to happen.
The first tunnel discovered by the IDF originated under a civilian building in the southern Lebanese city of Kfar Kila—proof of Hezbollah’s tactic to use civilian infrastructure to protect its military buildup. Had the tunnel been activated, it would have allowed Hezbollah to sever the main road leading to Metula, cutting it off from the rest of the country.
A senior Israeli official on Thursday said the tunnels discovered inside Israel were wide enough to be used by “entire battalions” to allow terrorists to “carry out killing sprees and kidnappings, and to capture Israeli towns and villages.” Seven years ago, Hezbollah created a unit called Radwan, whose specific purpose is to infiltrate into Israel and carry out atrocities.
Radwan and other Iranian-controlled groups are currently fighting alongside the Bashar Assad regime in the Syrian civil war. Battle-hardened and much more heavily armed, they pose a rising threat to Israel. Hezbollah is believed to possess an arsenal of at least 130,000 rockets and missiles capable of striking virtually anywhere in Israel. Simply put, the next war with Lebanon will be catastrophic.
On Nov. 30, Hezbollah released a video in which it threatened to target a number of strategic locations in Israel, including the nuclear reactor in Dimona, an act of nuclear terrorism. In February 2016, the group threatened to strike ammonia facilities in Haifa, an attack the group’s leader Hassan Nasrallah said would result in tens of thousands of fatalities.
It’s clear that Hezbollah has no respect for human life—whether Muslim, Christian or Jewish. Its rockets, bombs and rifles are placed under Lebanese schools and hospitals, and the group openly and unapologetically threatens to direct its significant firepower at Israeli cities. Israel therefore rightly holds the Lebanese government responsible for terror activities emanating from its sovereign territory.
With Hezbollah rejecting any notion of peace and Iran searching for outlets to activate its proxies across the Middle East, it’s time for the international community to declare in no uncertain terms that the terror organization—funded and armed by Iran—poses an existential threat to Israel that must not be tolerated.
Joshua S. Block is president and CEO of the Israel Project, a nonprofit, nonpartisan educational organization.