Hezbollah, Israeli opposition say tunnel operation political stunt by Netanyahu
Jim Hollander/Pool via AP
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) warned Lebanese army and Hezbollah forces to stay away from cross-border “attack tunnels” it is currently engaged in destroying along the border as part of a major operation called “Northern Shield” launched Tuesday.
The operation was launched before dawn on Tuesday, with the army declaring some areas adjacent to the Lebanon border a closed military zone and deploying additional forces to the north.
Details are still emerging. As of now, the IDF had only released information pertaining to one tunnel located south of the Lebanese border village of Kfar Kila.
כוחותינו איתרו מנהרת טרור התקפית חוצת-גדר במרחב דרום כפר כילא— צבא ההגנה לישראל (@idfonline) December 4, 2018
בשעות אלו מבצעים הכוחות מהלכים מבצעיים והנדסיים לקראת נטרולה.
המנהרה אותרה כחלק ממבצע "מגן צפוני" לחשיפה ולנטרול מנהרות טרור שחפר חיזבאללה לשטח ישראל. המנהרה חצתה לשטח ישראל, אך לא היוותה איום מיידי על תושבי האזור pic.twitter.com/N7PiSuNCod
The information was enough for the foreign ministry to direct Israel’s delegation at the UN to register a protest with the UN Secretary General and the Security Council against the “aggressive activity from Lebanese territory”.
"Anyone who tries to harm the State of Israel will pay a heavy price", Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement.
In Lebanon, a Hezbollah-affiliated news outlet released pictures apparently taken from Lebanese army watchtowers, showing Israeli military engineering crews at work.
An unnamed Hezbollah official also ridiculed Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in Lebanese newspaper AnNahar. Comparing him to Cervantes’s hero Don Quixote, he said the Israeli leader was “fighting windmills”.
“He’s trying to start a war to escape problems at home”, the official added.
In Israel, Knesset member, Yoel Hasson, who chairs the opposition Zionist Union party in parliament, accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of launching the IDF operation as a scheme to divert attention from police recommendations that he be indicted for bribery.
Hasson accused Netanyahu of “cheapening the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and Israel’s security interests by launching Operation Northern Shield as a political move.
“The bulldozer operation in Israeli territory leaves us no alternative but to question the timing and the presentation” of Operation Northern Shield, Hasson said.
Earlier this week, Israel Police recommended that Netanyahu should be indicted for bribery and other offenses in Case 4000 probing the prime minister’s role in a Bezeq-Walla corruption probe.
“The presentation [of the operation] to the public as a military offensive to justify [Jewish Home leader Naftali] Bennett remaining in the government, and the timing, which is meant to overshadow the police recommendations… are an insult to the residents of the north,” he added.
חיזבאללה מפרסם תמונות מהעבודות בגבול. לא מעבר לזה pic.twitter.com/X0N0SaMjws— Guy Elster (@guyelster) December 4, 2018
Benjamin Netanyahu is fighting on multiple fronts in the domestic political arena, heading a ruling coalition on the verge of collapse and facing corruption and bribery charges. Israel was also brought to a standstill today by a women’s strike against gender-based violence, with activists blaming government inaction.
The Prime Minister has made the case repeatedly over the past month that the security situation of Israel was critical, and that this was no time for a change in leadership.
Last night, he flew to Brussels to meet US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in part to brief him about "Operation Northern Shield".
- Is conflict inevitable? -
Whether the Israeli executive is reacting to a domestic political situation, or preempting a foreign threat, there is no doubt that the volatile border area between Israel, Lebanon and Syria is likely to become a flashpoint, as a drawn out Syrian civil war comes to a halt.
According to an i24NEWS exclusive, 10,000 Iran-led and trained Syrian troops are currently being stationed along the border with Israel.
There are also concerns that Hezbollah battle-hardened militants returning from fighting with Iranian backing in the Syrian civil war, are now ready for an offensive against Israel.
It is estimated Hezbollah has stockpiled an arsenal of some 100,000 and 120,000 short-and medium-range missiles and rockets, as well as several hundred long-range missiles since the last conflict with the Jewish State in 2006.
Both the Syrian and Lebanese army issued statements saying they were increasing readiness along their borders with Israel.
The United Nations’ Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), which has been on the border between Israel and Lebanon since 1978, and is mandated to monitor the cessation of hostilities since the last war in 2006, said they were not aware of any violence, and that the situation "remained calm".
In a statement on Tuesday, they said they were in contact with Israel and Lebanon to maintain stability and to ensure, through the tripartite coordinating mechanism, that messages are passing between the two sides.
The Israeli cabinet will meet to discuss the ongoing situation at the defense establishment headquarters in Tel Aviv tonight at 7:30 pm.
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