TEL AVIV – The IDF’s northern operation to destroy cross-border tunnels dug by Hezbollah came as a “great surprise” to the terror group, which kept the underground program a secret from its own operatives, a senior IDF officer said Wednesday, adding that the Iranian-backed group planned on launching a surprise attack, infiltrating Israel and thus instigating a war.
On Tuesday morning, the IDF announced that it had uncovered the “first of sure to be many” subterranean attack tunnels excavated by Hezbollah. Terrorists belonging to the Lebanon-based group were still working in the tunnel when the IDF exposed it Tuesday morning.
The 200-meter tunnel, which originated in a private home in Qafr Kila in southern Lebanon and penetrated some 40 meters into Israel’s north near the border town of Metulla, did not present an immediate threat, the army said. However, the IDF emphasized that the tunnels were offensive in nature.
According to a senior officer who spoke on condition of anonymity, Hezbollah planned to send militants from its elite Radwan unit to cut Metulla off.
The private residential building Hezbollah used to manufacture bricks was chosen because of its strategic location in front of a security wall, the officer said, blocking it from Israel’s view. However, Israeli jets began monitoring a great deal of activity surrounding the building, including dozens of trucks going in and out and then driving some 12 kilometers before disposing of material.
The building was also next to a UNIFIL post. The UN peacekeeping force was surprised by the IDF’s discovery, the officer said.
UNIFIL, which is tasked with ensuring that UN Resolution 1701 is adhered to by Lebanon and Israel, said it would send a “technical team” to Israel Thursday in order to “ascertain the facts” about Israel’s operations around the border.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday told Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that the tunnels constituted a “flagrant violation” of Resolution 1701, which marked the end of the 2006 Second Lebanon War.
Speaking from the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on Tuesday, Netanyahu said the tunnels were part of a “daring” broader plan to infiltrate Israel and capture parts of the Galilee.
“The aim of Hezbollah is to dig tunnels into our territory. It is part of an effort with a breadth and depth that we have not seen before,” Netanyahu said during a televised address.
“Capturing parts of the Galilee by Hezbollah is a concrete threat,” he said. “It is also part of a regional and global terror effort led by Iran.”
“These cross-border terror tunnels were built by Hezbollah with direct support and funding from Iran. They were built with one purpose in mind — to attack and murder innocent Israeli men, women and children,” the prime minister said.
The IDF officer on Wednesday said the discovery of the Metulla tunnel was not “a Hanukkah miracle,” but the result of years of intelligence gathering in addition to technological advancements within the IDF.
“Hezbollah has lowered their profile tremendously since we started the operation,” he said. “They still don’t fully understand how much we know about their project.”
He added, however, that the IDF was prepared for war if Hezbollah were to attack.