Israel prizes stealth and surprise in battle. Yet it’s now conducting a highly publicized military operation, destroying Hezbollah attack tunnels snaking under its border with Lebanon. Why?
True, tunnels are a major threat, but what worries Israelis even more is Hezbollah’s ever-growing missile arsenal. The Shiite terror group’s patrons in Tehran are busy modernizing those missiles while building indigenous rocket-manufacturing factories on Lebanese territory.
So why the tunnels first?
Two such tunnels have been eliminated since the Israeli Defense Forces launched operation Northern Shield last week. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the work will last as long as it takes to destroy all tunnels. Maybe months.
They’re dug deep under the rocky terrain of the border region. Some are reportedly wide enough to transport tanks and other heavy military equipment. IDF briefers say one tunnel, destroyed last week, would have allowed terrorists to seize a major Israeli highway, cutting off Metula and other northern Galilee towns and, presumably, slaughtering residents.
Israel’s known about the tunneling activity for months. Galilee residents have complained about underground noises at night, and intelligence officials have reportedly used Lebanese sources to map tunneling and follow the digging process. Hezbollah has seized several southern Lebanese villages, taking over residential homes and using the locals as human shields against possible air attack. The terror outfit was apparently unaware of the wealth of intelligence Israel has gathered.
Those details, and others, emerged from press briefings the IDF has conducted regularly during Northern Shield. Netanyahu, similarly, took foreign ambassadors to the border for a detailed presentation. And on Sunday the IDF Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, hosted the commander of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, Maj. Gen. Stefano Del Col of Italy, at his Tel Aviv headquarters.
The south Lebanon-based UNIFIL, charged with overseeing the ceasefire between Hezbollah and Israel, has to date mentioned no tunneling activity in its periodic reports to the Security Council. Now Del Col readily admits the Hezbollah tunnels are a serious violation of the ceasefire terms.
And as tunnel destruction is conducted entirely inside Israel’s territory (though officials darkly hint they may at one point need to enter the other side of the border), even the toughest critics — including the UN — can’t blame Jerusalem for defending itself.
But if so, again: Why the publicity blitz? Why brief the press, foreign diplomats and the UN?
Part of the answer has to do with Israel’s recognition that in the past it has won decisive military victories while losing the public-relations wars. As before, in the next war “Hezbollah will hope to survive to fight another day while delegitimizing Israel in the eyes of the world,” says a new report by the Jewish Institute for National Security of America.
But according to JINSA, a think tank comprised of top retired US military officials, the next war will be much bloodier than past skirmishes, as Hezbollah now threatens Israel with up to 140,000 rockets, up from about 10,000 in 2006.
True, most of those rockets are primitive, but some Iranian deliveries of high precision missiles through Syria manage to evade IDF air attacks and are now housed in Lebanese villages. Over the weekend Hezbollah’s second in command, Naim Qassem, warned those rockets can reach any point in Israel.
Worse: In September, Netanyahu showed the UN photos of factories being erected near Beirut, where precision missiles are to be manufactured — bypassing the need to transfer them from Iran. Israel “knows what you’re doing, Israel knows where you are doing it and Israel will not let you get away with it,” Netanyahu said.
Those factories can be a major game changer, but if the IDF wants to eliminate the threat, it must at first neutralize other menaces — like tunnels designed to slaughter Israeli civilians in retaliation for an attack on Hezbollah.
And destroying those tunnels in full public view, highlighting how Hezbollah takes Lebanese villagers hostage and uses them as human shield, is a bonus in the PR battle — a major component of modern warfare.
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