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Netanyahu threatens to move Operation Northern Shield to Lebanese territories

The Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu speaks as he visits the the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius on 26 August, 2018 [Petras Malukas /AFP/Getty Images]
Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu speaks as he visits the the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius on 26 August 2018 [Petras Malukas /AFP/Getty Images]

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is also in charge of the defence ministry, made a tour in the north of Israel on Thursday and briefed journalists at the Misgav Am kibbutz on the border with Lebanon regarding the initiation of Operation Northern Shield. The military operation, launched by the Israeli army yesterday, is allegedly aimed at uncovering and destroying tunnels dug by Hezbollah from the Lebanese territories extending to the Israeli side of the border.

Netanyahu said: "There is a reasonable possibility that we have to carry on military actions in Lebanon, and we have the legitimacy to initiate other operations also. I am managing power with a sense of reason and responsibility."

He claimed: "We are systematically and resolutely preventing our enemies from using the tunnels and we will work, as long as it is necessary, to end this phenomenon. Whoever attacks us will be responsible for his deeds, and both Hezbollah and Hamas know such fact. We have told our ambassadors that they must unequivocally condemn aggression and tighten the sanctions against involved parties. Operation Northern shield has just started, but by its end, the weapon of tunnels which Hezbollah effectively invested in will vanish."

Netanyahu pointed to a direct relationship between Operation Northern Shield and the cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip, last month. He stated: "We are preparing to attack all fronts, and I will decide the right timing for it. They will not be able to do anything because we have neutralised the tunnels, and this is only one reason among others why we did not launch a military operation in Gaza."

Simultaneously, the Israeli media quoted a senior Israeli political official, whose identity was kept secret, saying that hiding the start date of Operation Northern Shield stems from Israel's concerns about potential leaks that may render Hezbollah aware of the exact time of the attack. He added: "Actually, there was a leak, but we deduced that if Hezbollah knew that we are aware of it, they would speed up efforts to capture Israeli military officers or citizens. We did not want to get into that type of situation where Hezbollah captures a soldier or a citizen, and no one knows about it."

The same official indicated: "There is a Russian military alert on the Syrian-Lebanese border, and this type of details is leading to a major slowdown in Hezbollah's plan to make the missiles more accurate.  We are using a counter-plan that exposes Hezbollah's strategy and prevents it from using sites that make rockets more accurate. Thus, these potential sites have been destroyed and neutralised by the Israeli army. Besides, if there is a specific circuit to transport such weapons from Iran to Lebanon, then the Lebanese authorities will be in big troubles. On the other hand, we are working to diminish the effect of precision-guided missiles, and we have no concerns regarding this matter except after the Russian aircraft have been destroyed."

Read: Israel tells Lebanon and UN peacekeepers to destroy attack tunnel

"Under Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah's plan to develop a precision-guided weapon, the movement is supposed to have thousands of precision rockets by now. However, in reality, they have only a few dozens, due to our constant countermeasure operations to confuse the track of missiles, which resulted in hindering Hezbollah's precision-guided weapon program," the official stated.

He clarified: "The funds invested in digging the tunnels are significant; that is why we attempted to prevent Hamas from getting these funds. Regarding the tunnels in the north, we have been discreetly and gradually following the project for four years until the technology has matured, and we have the materials and capabilities now to put an end to this project, based on a final resolution issued last November."

The source added: "The goal of organising a tour for foreign ambassadors in the north of the country is to establish political legitimacy for other Israeli operations later if needed. At the same time, we are trying to demonise Hezbollah which is located in the advanced spots of our land. We will hold a meeting at the UN Security Council at the end of this week or early next week, and we will start to exert the same amount of pressure we wielded on Hamas earlier, not only against the tunnels project, but also to clarify that there is a terrorist organisation which trespassed the Israeli territories to kill civilians."

He conveyed: "Our biggest enemy is Iran, which operates through two strategies. For many years, we started to take action against the non-conventional strategy which is the Iranian nuclear program. Besides, thanks to our political strife against Iran, sanctions have been imposed again against Iranian authorities and their nuclear sites have also been detected. There are several objectives regarding Iran's conventional strategy, particularly Syria. As a result of our operations, the size of Iranian forces has decreased on Syrian lands. We have acted against Iranian militias and bombarded their military bases. As such, the Israeli army is the only army in the world that fights the Iranian army. The Iranian positioning plan has been stopped, obstructed and shrank due to sanctions imposed on Iran; and consequently, money flows have also been reduced dramatically."

According to the Israeli official, "Iran has another military tactic, which is the tunnel system. Iranians want to use this weapon differently. They intend to transfer battalions and forces, through large tunnels, into the Israeli territories to unleash a wave of murders, kidnappings and take control of Israeli towns."

For his part, Netanyahu talked about the Qatari financial grant handed to the authorities in the Gaza Strip, noting that money was transferred to Gaza under Abu Mazen's supervision, the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and that he wanted to impose a siege against Gaza and create a problem there. Netanyahu highlighted that "there is still a humanitarian problem that affects us, regarding health and sewage water, which goes to Ashkelon for instance. The question is: how can such issue be covered up?"

Netanyahu added: "When the money comes from Qatar, we need to monitor the process of transfer. Do you want the money? Then, we want to get the salary recipient's picture, signature and fingerprint. Indeed, the Qatari envoy is systematically transferring this data to us, so we know where the money goes. Abu Mazen decided to separate between Judea, Samaria area, in the West Bank, and Gaza. Such resolution is indispensable to prevent a humanitarian collapse … Now we are in a truce, and I do not know if it will continue … Our only condition for approving the settlement is to find a solution regarding the issue of the Israeli captives and missing in Gaza, in addition to implementing projects and a border crossing monitored by Cyprus."

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