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Ex Israeli defense minister: We lied about Hezbollah tunnels for years

FILE: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, stands with former Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, center, and former Israeli Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz,
(AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

Former Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon admitted on Thursday that security officials, including him, lied about the existence of Hezbollah’s cross border tunnels for years.

In an effort to calm the residents of the north, Ya’alon told Army Radio on Thursday that “We did it to mislead the other side.”

Israel on Tuesday announced the launch of "Operation Northern Shield" to destroy the underground tunnel that were not yet operational.

The IDF said that "Operation Northern Shield" was initiated under a special task force that has since 2014 been leading operational, technological and intelligence efforts on the issue of tunnels on the northern border and has "developed vast abilities and knowledge on Hezbollah’s attack tunnel project."

On Thursday, a second tunnel was uncovered by the IDF, stretching from Lebanese village of Ramyeh into Israeli territory near the village of Zarit. The first tunnel was discovered in the northern Israeli village of Metulla.

“My comments two years ago that there are no tunnels in the north was a lie in order to preserve the security of the state. I didn’t want Hezbollah to know that we knew,” the former defense minister added.

Ali DIA (AFP)

In January 2015, Ya’alon told Israeli students in Kiryat Shmona in the north that the tunneling sounds they claimed to had heard were “horses in a stable next door.”

In March 2016, Ya’alon told Israeli students preparing for military duty that “in the north, we haven’t discovered a single tunnel”.

“My comments two years ago that there are no tunnels in the north was a lie in order to preserve the security of the state. I didn’t want Hezbollah to know that we knew,” admitted on Thursday.

The IDF did however take the reports from the residents in the north seriously at the time. “We looked and we didn’t find anything,” Ya’alon said.

Ya’alon also criticized the way “Operation Northern Shield” was announced, calling it an exaggeration.

“There’s an exaggeration in the way it was presented, and I hope that doesn’t hurt us. But the decision (to announce it) was professionally made and came from within the military.”

Opposition leader Tzipi Livni on Wednesday expressed a similar view, accusing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of over-dramatizing the army's discovery of Hezbollah tunnels infiltrating its territory from Lebanon for political gain.

(AP Photo/Baz Ratner, Pool)

"We are not now in a situation where our soldiers are behind enemy lines," said Livni, who served as foreign minister during Israel's 2006 war with Hezbollah.

"We are talking about engineering activity within the sovereign territory of the state of Israel," she added, accusing Netanyahu of "blowing the incident out of proportion."

"Therefore he made a defensive engineering event into a dramatic military operation," she said.

"This was done from two reasons -- either the prime minister is himself panicking or he wants to sow panic to justify his actions both in delaying elections and abandoning the residents of southern Israel."

Israel holds the Lebanese government, the Lebanese Armed Forces and UNIFIL responsible for all events transpiring in and emanating from Lebanon and for the implementation of resolution 1701.

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