Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said yesterday that Israel's operation against alleged Hezbollah tunnels is only the first stage in a wider operation.
Speaking in a televised address from the Israeli Defence Ministry yesterday, Netanyahu explained that Israel's anti-tunnel operation "is only a small piece of the big picture", the Times of Israel reported. "[This is] not an isolated operation, but a wide and ongoing operation," he added, stressing that: "The operation will continue until the outcome is achieved, however long that may take."
Netanyahu also argued that the tunnels – which Israel claims have been dug by Hezbollah under the Israel-Lebanon border – are evidence that Hezbollah is trying to invade Israel. "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," Netanyahu claimed, adding: "Capturing parts of the Galilee [in northern Israel] by Hezbollah is a concrete threat."
Israel's President Reuven Rivlin also spoke out about yesterday's operation – dubbed "Operation Northern Shield" – saying that Hezbollah's actions would drag Lebanon into a war with Israel which would "bring about its eventual downfall". "We warn Hezbollah not to subjugate Lebanon to an Iranian agenda, or to use Lebanon as a base for attacking Israel," Rivlin continued, adding: "The discovery of these tunnels only proves the depth of Iranian involvement in Lebanon, in terms of both funding and political direction."
Meanwhile Lebanese President Michel Aoun called on the country's military and security wings to "closely monitor" Israel's operation. Aoun is known to have held a series of phone calls yesterday to discuss the situation with Lebanese parliament speakers, the prime minister-designate and the army commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces, the Jerusalem Post reported, citing Lebanon's state-run National News Agency.
Although Hezbollah's leader Hassan Nasrallah was expected to make a speech on Israel's attack last night, as yet it seems he has not come forward with a statement.
Also today, footage of what Israel claims to be Hezbollah members operating inside a tunnel has been circulating widely in Israeli media. Israel claims that it placed a camera inside the tunnel during the early hours of yesterday's operation, with the footage subsequently released by Israeli army spokesman Brigadier General Ronen Manelis, Ynet reported. Manelis explained: "A few minutes after the beginning of the operation, we placed a hidden camera 25-meter deep inside the tunnel. A few minutes after the camera was placed, you can see two Hezbollah terrorists approaching the camera, and detonating a small bomb which was attached to it. In a matter of minutes, the small device is replaced by a larger bomb that prevents operational use inside other tunnels."
We surprised this Hezbollah operative before he could surprise Israeli civilians. Take a look at what we caught on camera from inside an attack tunnel dug from Lebanon into Israel. #NorthernShield pic.twitter.com/CFXl33hx7i
— Israel Defense Forces (@IDF) December 4, 2018
Israel launched its operation in the early hours of Tuesday morning, declaring the town of Metulla – located on the Israeli-Lebanese border not far from the occupied Golan Heights – a closed military zone. It is thought that the operation could last for several weeks, with Israel claiming the Metulla tunnel is one of many similar underground passages.
The move has been interpreted as an explanation for Israel's reluctance to start an all-out war in the Gaza Strip in the wake of its botched operation in the besieged enclave in November. At the time Netanyahu spoke of "security threats", but argued that he could not yet specify what those threats were. "It can [now] be assumed that the northern front [with Lebanon] was one of the threats," Israeli media speculated yesterday.