JERUSALEM—The Israeli army has launched an operation Monday night to destroy cross-border tunnels constructed by Hezbollah, crossing the Lebanon border into Israel.
The Israel Defense Force announced the discovery of the tunnels on Tuesday morning, saying it has started destroying them, dubbing the operation ‘’Northern Shield.’’
‘’The construction of the tunnels is a violation of UN Security Council resolution 1701, which ended the 2006 Second Lebanon War, the IDF spokesperson, Ronen Manelis, told Army Radio.
The operation came as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Brussels, for discussion on regional matters. The meeting was arranged at short notice.
Netanyahu was accompanied to the meeting by Mossad head Yossi Cohen, National Security Council head Meir Ben-Shabbat and his military secretary Avi Blot.
Pompeo is in the Belgian capital to participate in the semi-annual meeting of NATO Foreign Ministers.
According to Israeli daily Haaretz, the Brussels meeting is a ‘’warning to Iran and Lebanon before Israel takes military action.’’
The IDF said it has been aware since 2006 that Hezbollah was trying to construct attack tunnels stretching from Lebanon into Israel at several points along the border. Since then, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah has spoken of a plan to take over parts of the Galilee, in northern Israel, in a future conflict.
According to Manelis, Israeli troops along the border have been reinforced, “We are in full control of the situation and are determined to remove the underground Hezbollah threat from the northern border. The tunnels do cross into Israeli territory, but the work on them was not complete.”
Before leaving for Brussels for his meeting with Pompeo, Netanyahu characterized the meeting as “important,” and alluded to the situation in Lebanon.
“We are in continuous contact with our American friends. I will discuss with Mike Pompeo a list of developments in our region, and actions we are taking together to halt the aggression of Iran and its proxies in the North. We will of course also discuss other issues.”
Israel has for months been warning against Iran and Hezbollah converting some of the nearly 150,000 missiles believed to be stockpiled by the organization in Lebanon into precision guided missiles by refitting them with GPS systems. Israel has made it clear that this is something it will not tolerate, since these missiles could accurately target Israel’s sensitive infrastructure and population centers.
Netanyahu made mention of this in September during his address to the UN Security Council. “Iran is directing Hezbollah to build secret sites to convert inaccurate projectiles into precision-guided missiles,” he said. “Missiles that can target deep inside Israel within an accuracy of ten meters.”
Netanyahu, who held up photos during that speech of what he said were three of those sites near Beirut International Airport, said that he had a message for Hezbollah: “Israel also knows what you’re doing, Israel knows where you’re doing it, and Israel will not let you get away with it.”
Following his meeting with Netanyahu, Pompeo said Monday that the US will confront the Iranian regime’s threats through maximum pressure.
He said that strong ties with allies like Israel are “critical to our efforts to counter Iran’s destabilising and malign activity throughout the Middle East, and indeed throughout the world”.
He reiterated the US’s resolve in confronting all Iranian threats, making reference to Iran’s “non-nuclear threats,” such as its ballistic missile programme, its support for Hezbollah, Shia militias in Syria and its assistance to Houthi rebels in Yemen.
Prime Minister Netanyahu thanked Pompeo for his work in countering Iran. “I want to thank you for everything that you’re doing, for your strong statements on the latest violation by Iran on the ballistic missiles. I look forward to discussing with you how we can together curb Iran’s aggression in the region, in Syria, in Iraq, in Lebanon and elsewhere and to continue our efforts to achieve peace and security for everyone.”
Netanyahu is reported to have briefed Pompeo about Israel’s military operation on the Lebanon border and the extent of Hezbollah military activity in the area.
At the start of the meeting, the Israeli Prime Minister lit the second Chanukah candle together with the US Secretary of State.