Israel launches operation to thwart Hezbollah border tunnels

Serbian U.N peacekeepers patrol the Lebanese side of the Lebanese Israeli border in the southern village of Kfar Kila Lebanon Tuesday Dec. 4 2018

He also said the operation was launched shortly after Netanyahu's meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in the Belgian capital, stressing that the embattled prime minister had been in Brussels to ask Pompeo for help.

Israel has launched a military operation meant to "expose and destroy" a series of tunnels it says Hezbollah dug into Israel from Lebanon, where the militant group is based.

The Israel Defense Forces launched an overnight military operation along the northern border with Lebanon to destroy Iranian-backed Hezbollah cross-border attack tunnels.

In a tweet, Israeli military spokesperson Avichay Adraee said the Lebanese government is responsible for the build-up of the tunnels, saying they are endangering Lebanese citizens.

Israel's vulnerability to tunnels was laid bare during its war with Palestinian militant group Hamas in Gaza in 2014, when Palestinian militants used dozens of secret passages dug from Gaza into Israel to carry out ambushes.

Israeli forces have opened a wide offensive to destroy "attack tunnels" allegedly excavated by the Shia Hezbollah militia under the border with Lebanon.

Netanyahu said he had planned to discuss with Pompeo "steps we are taking together to block the aggression of Iran and its proxies in the north", referring to Syria and Lebanon.

"Iran backs Hezbollah, which Israel says has amassed thousands of rockets since 2006". "Hamas uses the tunnels for tactical operations".

Israel is also trying to send a message of deterrence to Hezbollah, he said, which as of Tuesday had not reacted to the news that Israel had uncovered one of its tunnels and plans to destroy more.

An Israeli military digger works on the Lebanese Israeli border next to a wall that was built by Israel in the southern village of Kafr Kila Lebanon
An Israeli military digger works on the Lebanese Israeli border next to a wall that was built by Israel in the southern village of Kafr Kila Lebanon

Despite the inherent risks, Israel's expectations for further escalation remain relatively low, mostly because the operation, for now, is constrained to the Israeli side and does not involve military attacks - at least not yet.

Malene Jensen, spokeswoman for the United Nations force in Lebanon known as UNIFIL, said the situation in the peacekeepers' "area of operation remains calm" and that they are in touch with all relevant parties to make sure calm and stability is maintained.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah last September boasted his terror group had attained precision-guided missiles, in defiance of spite of Israeli repeated attempts at preventing this.

Conricus said Hezbollah has been hiding its efforts within the civilian infrastructure.

These Hezbollah special forces would, in the event of a war, bring these new abilities with them into a new conflict with Israel.

It said the army had boosted its presence and readiness and was prepared for "various scenarios".

Netanyahu has pledged to stop Iran from entrenching itself militarily in Syria and to keep it from transferring advanced weapons to its ally Hezbollah in Lebanon. Israel is on high alert for any possible Hezbollah reaction.

Neither side appears interested in another full-fledged confrontation like the 2006 war, but any skirmish could spark an all-out conflict.

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