Israel to expose Hezbollah attack tunnels from Lebanon

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv. Credit Amos Ben-Gershom  GPO

Israel said on Tuesday it had launched an operation to "expose and thwart" from Lebanon dug by the Iran-backed Lebanese movement Hezbollah.

Tensions are high between Israel and Hezbollah, which fought a month-long war in 2006.

The army said the operation was taking place in Israeli territory.

The Israeli military for its part says it has always been aware that Hezbollah has been building attack tunnels stretching from Lebanon into Israel at several points along the border. "This activity is another example of the negative effects of Iranian entrenchment in the region".

The operation could take weeks, an Israeli military source said. The tunnel is said to be 200 meters (656 feet) in length, with 40 meters (131 feet) inside Israel.

On Tuesday, bulldozers and military vehicles were seen operating near the pastoral Israeli border town of Metula.

Within a few hours of the original announcement, the IDF said it had located a tunnel in Kfar Kela near Metulla, which sits right on the Lebanese border.

"Army officials won't say how many tunnels they found, but that Hezbollah has dug them to cross into Israel and carry out attacks", NPR's Daniel Estrin reports from Jerusalem.

A United Nations peacekeeping force which monitors the border region said it was calm on Tuesday with no signs of any increased tension. While the construction has prompted complaints from the Lebanese army, Hezbollah has not responded, an indication it could remain restrained amid the new operation.

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Additional IDF troops were deployed to northern Israel as a precaution against potential attacks by Hezbollah, but no reservists were called up. Israel is committed to protect its citizens and its territory.

It later published a photograph of a tunnel that it said it had uncovered.

No details were given about how detected tunnels would be put out of use.

Local residents told Israeli media they had been hearing digging noises for years and had reported their suspicions to the military.

There was no immediate comment from Hezbollah and its Al-Manar TV did not make any mention of the Israeli operation.

The military said in a statement it had "enhanced its presence and readiness in the Northern Command and is prepared for various scenarios". Manelis said the Lebanese Armed Forces is not capable of controlling what occurs in southern Lebanon.

As early as 2006, the IDF discovered that Hezbollah was building tunnels into its territory from Lebanon, an activity which only increased after the Second Lebanon War.

Israel has also long warned that it believes Hezbollah intends to conduct cross-border raids in any future conflict with Israel, establishing a special forces unit - known as the Radwan Unit - with the specific goal of capturing an Israeli village near the border.

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