Hezbollah Tunnels and Israel’s Operation Northern Shield
By: Bob Feferman
The recent discovery of Hezbollah terror tunnels under Israel’s border with Lebanon made a tense situation even more dangerous. In fact, as I write this blog, we do not yet know if there will be open hostilities between Hezbollah and Israel. The context for these events can be found in Iran’s dangerous regional ambitions.
Over the past several years, Iran has been working to create a land bridge from Tehran to the Mediterranean. To achieve that goal, Iran seeks to dominate three Arab countries: Iraq, Lebanon and Syria.
This strategy explains the massive support that Iran has provided to prop up the regime of the brutal Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Assad during the civil war. The cost: over 500,000 dead Syrians and more than five million refugees.
The motivation of Iranian leaders for this undertaking is twofold: to export the Islamic Revolution and to pursue their obsession with the destruction of Israel. As Israeli Middle East expert Ehud Yaari wrote, “Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) is determined to transform Syria into a platform for a future war against Israel…”
With this background in mind, we have seen a dangerous dynamic play out over the past year. Iran has been diligently working to build a large military infrastructure in Syria and Israel has been pushing back through some 200 targeted air strikes to prevent this development.
Yet the threats to Israel on its northern borders are not only coming from the Syrian front, but also from Lebanon where Iran’s loyal proxy Hezbollah is well established.
Since the Second Lebanon War in 2006, Iran has re-supplied Hezbollah in Lebanon with more than 150,000 rockets and missiles. Over the past year, Iran has been working to increase the range and accuracy of Hezbollah’s vast arsenal with shipments of weapons and equipment via land from Syria to Lebanon.
On November 29th, we saw something that is potentially a game-changer. For the first time, Israeli media reported, a cargo plane from Iran flew directly to Beirut’s airport—rather than first making a stop-over in Syria. According to several reports, the plane was carrying advanced weaponry and equipment to upgrade the accuracy of the arsenal of Hezbollah.
For some time, Israeli leaders have been warning about what they call Hezbollah’s “accuracy project.” In his speech to the U.N. General Assembly in September, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said, “In Lebanon, Iran is directing Hezbollah to build secret sites to convert inaccurate projectiles into precision-guided missiles. Missiles that can target deep inside Israel within an accuracy of ten meters.”
To make the situation even more dangerous, on the morning of December 5th we learned of a new threat. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) announced it discovered a Hezbollah terror tunnel that went under the Lebanese border and extended forty meters into Israeli territory. More tunnels are now being discovered. The same day Israel launched what it calls “Operation Northern Shield” whose goal is to locate and destroy the Hezbollah tunnels under Israel’s border with Lebanon.
According to IDF officials, the purpose of the tunnels is to infiltrate large numbers of Hezbollah operatives into northern Israel in order to kidnap and murder civilians and soldiers and occupy parts of the Galilee.
The Hezbollah threat is directly tied to the government of Iran which provides the terror organization with an annual budget of $800 million dollars and an endless supply of weapons. Iran’s support for Hezbollah is no secret.
In the summer of 2016, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said, “We are open about the fact that Hizbollah’s budget, its income, its expenses, everything it eats and drinks, its weapons and rockets, are from the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
The tense situation on Israel’s northern border with Lebanon needs to be seen in the wider context of the threats to Israel coming from Iran that also include the Syrian front. As Major General Amos Yadlin (ret.) former chief of Israeli military intelligence said, “The next war won’t be the 3rd Lebanon war. It will be the first northern war.”