Israeli Army Finds Last and Largest Hezbollah Attack Tunnel, Ending Six-week Op

The Israeli army announced on Sunday morning the end of Operation Northern Shield, which it launched in early December to destroy Hezbollah attack tunnels crossing into Israel from Lebanon.

Israel Defense Forces Spokesman Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis said the army located on Saturday afternoon the sixth and largest tunnel crossing into Israel and is working to destroy it. Manelis said that with the latest discovery, "the threat posed by the tunnels has been eliminated."

>> Read more: Attack tunnels on the Israel-Lebanon border are only a prelude to the real Hezbollah threat ■ Israel seeks to leverage op against Hezbollah tunnels to complete Lebanon border wall

Speaking at a briefing for military correspondents, Manelis said the tunnel discovered on Saturday was the largest and most important one detected since the beginning of the operation.

The tunnel is hundreds of meters long and reaches dozens of meters into Israeli territory, said Manelis, and contains "railroads to transport equipment, garbage, lighting, and ladders to enter Israeli territory. Stairs were built. A lot of resources were invested in this tunnel."

Israeli soldiers are seen stationed near the Lebanon border, December 6, 2018.Gil Eliyahu

Manelis added that there are additional tunnels that do not cross into Israel, noting that the army is proceeding with the construction of the border wall.

The Lebanese ambassador to the United Nations, Amal Mudallali, has filed a complaint with the UN Security Council over Israel’s construction of the wall. Mudallali said Israel was violating Lebanese sovereignty by continuing to build the wall, along with other structures, inside of Lebanese territory and at points along the blue line near Kibbutz Misgav Am. 

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Mudallali said the construction of the wall violated UN Resolution 1701, passed after the Second Lebanon War, and added that Lebanon would continue to protect every centimeter of land and water.

She called on the Security Council to act immediately on the matter, and also called on the UN peacekeeping force in the area, UNIFIL, to ensure security along the border.

Israel’s UN ambassador, Danny Danon responded: "Instead of making false complaints, it is time for the Lebanese government to roll up its sleeves and address Hezbollah’s violations, which could lead to the residents of southern Lebanon paying a very heavy price."

Israeli soldiers are seen near the Lebanon border, January 13, 2019. IDF Spokesperson’s Unit

Dannon said Israel will continue to carry out defensive operations in its own territory and "will thwart any threat to its civilians."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during a security cabinet tour along the northern border in late December that the operation was nearing its end. Netanyahu asked the defense establishment to announce that the operation was over but to keep up work to dismantle the tunnels.

Manelis, however, said days later that Israeli action on the border to destroy the tunnels was yet to be completed. "There is more work to be done to uncover and neutralize [tunnels]," Manelis said. 

Sources familiar with the matter said Netanyahu’s request to wrap up the operation stemmed from the perception that tensions in the north are not beneficial to him ahead of the April 9 election. On the other hand, framing the operation – which was been defined as one of the most sensitive to Israel’s security – as a success could be an electoral asset for Netanyahu and Likud.