Israel is launching Operation Northern Shield, a military mission seeking to destroy tunnels that Tel Aviv said were dug by Hezbollah from the neighboring Lebanon into the Israeli territory.
“We know about quite a few tunnels. I cannot give the specific number right now,” said Jonathan Concricus, a spokesman for the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).
The operation will take place only on the Israeli territory and the occupied Golan Heights, he said.
The existence of such tunnels has been the topic of household talk, if not expert discussion, for quite some time now. It has been surrounded with various exaggerations: people say the tunnels go from the Lebanese border up to Tel Aviv, and are big enough for a truck. The launch of the operation proves once again that there is no smoke without fire.
It is not known for certain what these tunnels look like: they may be separate underground passages or a network of them. Israeli officials have so far announced the discovery of one tunnel that is several tens of meters long. In any case, the concern of the Tel Aviv authorities is easy to understand. In the neighboring Syria, government troops unsuccessfully fought militants for months, because they moved through tunnels, avoiding significant losses, and then quickly restored control over previously liberated areas. Apparently, Hezbollah has decided to add this method to its armory.
Besides, the Israeli are used to pointing to Tehran’s growing strength in the region and the shaping of the so-called Shia crescent from Iran to the Lebanon. They view any move of the Islamic Republic as a threat to their national security. Discovery of the tunnels is just one example. Before that, the Iranians and Hezbollah managed to secure a foothold in Syria. Tel Aviv does not especially trust the previously achieved agreements on withdrawal of non-Syrian troops from the Golan Heights, claiming that Hezbollah is still present there, clad in government uniforms. Besides, there are recurrent reports in mass media about Tehran delivering weapons to Beirut using civil aircraft. If this information is true, these weapons will obviously find their way to Hezbollah’s tunnels, among other places.
On the other hand, it is worth pointing out that it is not the Lebanese militants or the Islamic Republic that have been openly trying to escalate the situation recently. It is no secret that the Israeli air forces make forays into the Syrian territory, attacking the strongholds of Hezbollah and Iranian military rather than government troops. So this is definitely not a “one-side game” situation.
And this is not even a game, but a warm-up, rather. Recently, the Haaretz newspaper published an article titled “Battle between Israel and Iran Moving from Syria to Lebanon.” The publication quotes Amos Yadlin, former head of the IDF Military Intelligence Directorate, as saying that “the number of Israeli attacks (against Syria) has dropped virtually to zero, and I think it is not because we do not want them, but because the Iranians have changed their tactics; they are moving everything to the Lebanon.” Hezbollah, the article claims, is not interested in a war against Israel right now, but the combat experience acquired during the Syrian campaign and return of some of the militants from the neighboring country cannot but worry Tel Aviv.
Does this mean that there can be a third Lebanese war in the foreseeable future? There is no answer to this question. But the ongoing air strikes against Hezbollah and Iran in Syria, the Israeli-American hysteria about the Islamic Republic, supply of weapons to the Lebanon and preparation of infrastructure, including the tunnels, do not help to diminish the probability of a conflict.