(December 6, 2018 / JNS) The Hezbollah cross-border tunnel exposed on Tuesday near the northern town of Metula is likely to become a pilgrimage site in the next few weeks as lawmakers, as well as foreign diplomats and journalists, will all flock to see it.
This is a golden opportunity for Israel to call out Hezbollah on the international stage, and the powers that be have no intention of letting this unique public diplomacy asset go to waste—not when it can illustrate so clearly what Israel has been saying about Hezbollah’s extensive web of lies, its operational plans and its ties to Iran.
The tunnel in question was supposed to allow Hezbollah to realize Hassan Nasrallah’s pledge to “liberate the Galilee.”
Hezbollah lacks the operational prowess to do so, and Israel was aware of plans by Hezbollah special forces—the Raduan Brigades—to rush Israel Defense Forces’ posts or a small border-adjacent community. But it seems the tunnel was meant to help a Hezbollah contingent sneak under the border and seize control of a part of Highway 90 linking Metula to the rest of the country, as other forces rush the Israeli town.
Hezbollah operates systematically, and most likely managed its secret tunnel project in the same way, ensuring any information about it within the organization was on a need-to-know basis. This was a highly compartmentalized endeavor, and as one Israeli defense official said on Wednesday, “More people on our side knew about it than on their side.”
Hezbollah officials have remained mum since Tuesday. The extensive evidence Israel has and is now distributing to governments and media outlets worldwide is indisputable, and is very embarrassing not only for Hezbollah, but also for the Lebanese government and the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon, as both were adamant that the group was not operating near the Israeli border.
Still, Israel would be wise not to expect the United Nations to revise Resolution 1701, which ended the 2006 Second Lebanon War and imposed various restrictions on all parties involved.
The United States will likely support such revisions, but Russia will veto such a move. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to brief Russian President Vladimir Putin on the issue soon.
Alongside the public diplomacy efforts, military efforts on the ground will continue as well. Chances for a potential border flare-up had significantly diminished after the first day, but the IDF will remain on high alert on the border for as long as “Operation Northern Shield” is in play.
The real potential for a flare-up will surface after all the tunnels are exposed and the IDF gears up to destroy them, as Israel will have to decide whether to destroy only the parts of the tunnels that are Israeli territory or whether to step over the border and eliminate their origins on Lebanese soil.
This is less important operationally because it is doubtful whether Hezbollah will refocus its attention on the tunnels anytime in the near future. The main issue here is deterrence, or what risk would Israel be willing to take given the near-certain need for military action against Hezbollah’s precision-missiles facilities.
Yoav Limor is a veteran Israeli journalist and columnist for Israel Hayom.