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Russia backs Israel anti-tunnel operation, warns against UN armistice violations

The Israeli army is stepping up its defences along the Lebanese border in the belief that its foe Hezbollah will emerge more battle-hardened from its costly involvement in the civil war in Syria

Russia on Wednesday gave its backing to an Israeli operation launched a day earlier to destroy underground tunnels dug by Hezbollah from Lebanon into Israeli territory, but warned against violations of a UN armistice agreement that maintains calm on the border.

"We do not question Israel’s right to ensure its national security, including by preventing anyone from entering the country," a statement from Russia's foreign ministry said.

"At the same time, we hope that no actions taken to achieve this purpose will be in conflict with UN Security Council Resolution 1701," it added.

UN Resolution 1701, adopted to end the 2006 war between Lebanon and Israel, established a 15,000-strong peacekeeping force called the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) to oversee the cessation of attacks by Hezbollah and military operations on the border by both sides.

But Israel has often criticized what it says is UNIFIL’s failure to fulfill its mandate to see the disarmament and containment of Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah militia.

A UNIFIL spokesperson said Tuesday that its area of operation "remained calm" and that they are in communication with all relevant parties to ensure stability is maintained.

Mahmoud Zayyat (AFP)

The United States has given its full backing to Israel’s “Operation Northern Shield”, with National Security Advisor John Bolton saying Tuesday that Washington “strongly supports Israel’s efforts to defend its sovereignty” against Hezbollah tunnels.

"More broadly, we call on Iran and all of its agents to stop their regional aggression and provocation, which pose an unacceptable threat to Israeli and regional security," Bolton wrote on Twitter.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has already detected and destroyed at least one tunnel under the framework of the operation. The tunnel, burrowed some 40 meters into Israeli territory, originated from underneath a house in the Lebanese village of Kfar Kila just north of the border and was equipped with electrical and communication lines.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who currently also serves as defense minister, said in a televised press conference on Tuesday evening that Hezbollah’s network of “terror tunnels” were conceived as part of a broader plan to conquer parts of the Galilee region of northern Israel.

Netanyahu said that Hezbollah’s tunnel operation was conducted with the backing and financial support of its ally Iran, which both he and US President Donald Trump’s administration have pegged as the greatest threat to both Israel and the wider region.

He branded the tunnel operation as a “double war crime” that must be widely condemned, arguing that its intended purpose is to target Israeli civilians while hiding behind Lebanese civilians.

Netanyahu said he would speak with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres in addition to ordering the Israeli mission at the UN to request an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council on the matter.

Speaking alongside Netanyahu on Tuesday, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot said that the decision to respond to the tunnel threat was made on October 7th, although Israel has been tracking Hezbollah's "top secret" mission since 2014, following Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, which exposed the cross-border terror tunnels built by Hamas in Israel's south.

The IDF earlier noted that the tunnel uncovered from Lebanon was significantly larger than those dug by Hamas in Gaza.


But at least one Hezbollah affiliate and even some members of Israel’s opposition charged that launch of the operation had been conspicuously timed so as to distract from a myriad of political and legal woes Netanyahu is currently engulfed in.

Israel has significantly stepped up its defenses along the Lebanese border, out of concern that Hezbollah will emerge more battle-hardened from its costly involvement in the civil war in Syria.

Israel and Lebanon have been involved in a series of conflicts over the years and the two remain technically at war.

Since their last fought war in 2006, Hezbollah has strengthened its military capabilities significantly with an estimated arsenal of some 100,000 and 120,000 short-and medium-range missiles and rockets, as well as several hundred long-range missiles trained on the Jewish State.

Israel has also long warned that it believes Hezbollah intends to conduct cross-border raids in any future conflict with Israel, establishing a special forces unit -- known as the Radwan Unit -- with the specific goal of capturing an Israeli village near the border.

See also:

Analysis: Tunnels were the secret key to Hezbollah's plan to raid the Galilee


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