More than two days have passed since Israel exposed Hezbollah’ terror tunnels under the Israel-Lebanon border, and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, as well as the Shi’ite terrorist group’s other top officials, have all remained mum.
Following a string of stammered statements in Hezbollah-affiliated media, mostly speculating that “Operation Northern Shield” seeks to distract Israelis from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s legal troubles, it fell to Nabih Berri, Lebanon’s parliament speaker, to assert that “there are no tunnels. If anyone says there are, let them show me where.”
The lack of any real reaction from Hezbollah, which is very uncharacteristic, is a direct result of the shock crippling it over the Israeli operation. This shock is understandable. Hezbollah’s tunneling project was one of Nasrallah’s top secret schemes, and only a handful of his confidants within the organization knew about it.
Hezbollah’s confidence that it was operating under Israel’s radar was so ironclad that the project continued even when reports surfaced that the Israel Defense Forces was looking into complaints by the residents of the border-adjacent communities about strange digging noises near the border.
And then, out of the blue, this expansive (and expensive) project collapsed right before Nasrallah’s eyes. One tunnel is fully exposed to the world, another’s location has been revealed, and before you know it, the IDF announces that it has information about the entire grid. This means that this was not a random discovery, but one based on highly accurate intelligence, meaning that Hezbollah has been significantly compromised.
It should be said that the discovery of Hezbollah’s cross-border terror tunnels, significant as it may be, does little to change the fundamental balance of power between Israel and the Shi’ite terrorist group.
Nasrallah is a bitter enemy, and Hezbollah is a mini-army of highly motivated terrorists, who are skilled in battle and armed with 150,000 missiles that threaten Israel nationwide.
We must also remember that Hezbollah would be willing to contain Operation Northern Shield as long as it takes place on the Israeli side of the border. Should the IDF deem it necessary to cross into Lebanese territory Hezbollah will retaliate, even though its tunnels’ infringement on Israeli sovereignty is just as grave, if not graver, than a potential IDF infringement on Lebanon’s sovereignty. Moreover, if Israel decides to target Hezbollah’s missile-production facilities in Beirut, harsh retaliation by the group is all but guaranteed.
Meanwhile, both parties are waging a psychological war, but this time, Israel has the upper hand in terms of public diplomacy.
This goes beyond the clear-cut evidence that Hezbollah’s tunnel enterprise blatantly violates U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701 and Israeli sovereignty, as here, a picture is worth far more than a thousand words: Hezbollah’s TV channel Al Manar airs daily propaganda videos showing the group’s “fearless fighters” training for battle with Israel, but now, an IDF video showing Hezbollah operatives flee in panic from the exposed tunnel has gone viral, dealing morale a well-aimed blow.
Exposing the tunnels also exposed Nasrallah’s true colors as one who, while professing to be Lebanon’s ”defender,” actually has no qualms about sacrificing its interests to please his Iranian patrons.
On Wednesday, commentator Ahmed Ayyash wrote in An-Nahar daily that Hezbollah was dragging Lebanon down the tunnels with it, warning that Beirut will not be immune to the consequences of Nasrallah’s recklessness.
Oded Granot is a journalist and international commentator on the Middle East.