IDF vs Hezbollah Tunnel Warfare

“Iran’s annual funding of Hezbollah in Lebanon to attack Israel: 1 billion dollars.  
Hezbollah cross-border attack tunnel: A few million dollars.
Destroying this attack tunnel and protecting Israeli civilians: Priceless.”
(Israel Defense Forces)

Operation Northern Shield, which the IDF launched on 4 December 2018, aims to locate and destroy Hezbollah (terror)tunnels that cross the Blue Line from Lebanon into northern Israel. The operation is part of the ongoing Iran–Israel proxy conflict.

The Operation Northern Shield, following intelligence surveillance of a number of years. is underway via a well thought-out plan that combines intelligence exposure, engineering-based targeted action, and cognitive and diplomatic activity, all of which demonstrate clearly to Lebanon in general and Hezbollah in particular the aims and scope of the operation.

While Operation Northern Shield is still ongoing Israel’s attention is currently focused primarily on preventing Hezbollah to produce and convert rockets into guided long range precision missiles on Lebanese soil.  Probably both Israel and Hezbollah don’t have big interest to escalate the situation now – the future is different issue.

Some diplomatic activity

United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) acknowledged the existence of four tunnels near the Israel-Lebanon border, and can confirm that at least two of the tunnels cross the Blue Line” in violations of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which helped end the Second Lebanon War in 2006.

Israel and the United States are proposing a resolution to the Security Council to designate all of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization (the European states have designated only Hezbollah’s military wing as a terrorist organization)

The Russian embassy posted a tweet saying that there is “no doubt that Israel has the right to protect its national security, including to prevent the illegal entry of anyone into the country.”…“we hope that the actions taken for this purpose will not conflict with UNSC Resolution 1701.” Also the United States “strongly supports Israel’s efforts to defend its soverignty,” US National Security Advisor John Bolton wrote on Twitter.

The (End of) terror-tunnels

  • During the first day of the operation, on 4 December, the IDF uncovered a tunnel near the Israeli town of Metula with an estimated length of 200 metres (220 yd) that “extended more than 40 yards (37 m)” into Israel
  • On 6 December 2018, IDF discovered a second tunnel originating from the village of Ramyah near the border,
  • On 11 December 2018, the IDF located a third tunnel crossing into Israel.
  • On 16 December 2018, the IDF located a fourth tunnel crossing into Israel, and that as the tunnel had been rigged with explosives anyone entering it from the Lebanese side would be risking their life.
  • On December 26, 2018, the IDF blew up the fifth Hezbollah terrorist tunnel, which had been located a few days before in the region of the Shi’ite village of Ayta al-Shab (east of the Israeli community of Zar’it). Before the tunnel was destroyed the IDF called on the Lebanese villagers to evacuate the area

According to a senior IDF officer, most of the tunnels in the north exposed so far were “five star tunnels,” of the kind Hamas could only dream about. They had ventilation ducts and electric connections, and some of them had telephones. Some of Hezbollah’s tunnels were dug to a depth of more than 49 yards. They were ten feet wide and almost eight feet high (IDF spokesman, December 27, 2018).

The tunnels Hezbollah burrowed are meant to facilitate the movement and infiltration into northern Israel of hundreds of its fighters as part of its well-established military doctrine that calls for “the conquest of the Galilee.” and its aim is that during the next war, Hezbollah would invade the northern Israeli Galilee region and conquer it. Hezbollah’s operational plan also includes the construction of facilities to launch massive missile attacks on population centers and strategic sites. From Hezbollah’s perspective, the aerial attacks would attract the entire attention of Israel’s military, thereby simultaneously enabling Hezbollah to activate its plan for “the conquest of the Galilee” using its special forces.

Background

Hezbollah has long history of creating underground facilities such as tunnels, this was evident during the 2006 Lebanese war.  However then they served for defensive purposes i.e. moving troops etc but now the tunnels were intended for offensive objectives.  The idea of the tunnels is to transport Hezbollah elite units e.g. with motorcycles into Israel, to make ambushes, kidnap soldiers and terror civilian communities – the same idea which Hamas developed in Gaza before Israel-Gaza conflict in 2014.  Original idea came from lessons learned from Viet Cong activities in -60’s and -70’s.  Hamas shared their experiences with Hezbollah with Iranian financial support. 

IDF started searching for Hezbollah tunnels into Israel in 2013 after residents of northern Israel reported hearing sounds of digging, but failed to find anything. After the 2014 Israel–Gaza conflict, which saw numerous tunnels dug by Hamas from the Gaza Strip into Israel being uncovered and being utilized in several attacks, the IDF renewed its search for Hezbollah tunnels in northern Israel, and this time found indications that such tunnels existed. A laboratory made up of soldiers from technology and intelligence units was formed to investigate it, based on a similar laboratory investigating Hamas tunnels in southern Israel. A variety of seismic sensors and radar systems were used to locate the tunnels. The operation was planned two and a half years in advance.

After realizing that Hezbollah’s tunnels would need to be dealt with in 2015, a team of IDF military engineers, intelligence officers, and technology experts determined that plans should be made for destroying the tunnels. Senior officers in the IDF Combat Engineering Corps realized that the hard, rocky terrain of northern Israel, as opposed to the soft, sandy terrain of the area where Hamas tunnels were dug in the south, would pose a challenge that the IDF was not accustomed to.

 

Operation Northern Shield: The outcome

The impact of of Operation Northern Shield is significant on Hezbollah’s plan to establish a credible ground threat against Israel. The operation makes clear the improved IDF’s intelligence and detection capabilities and destroying the tunnels as well building the security barrier or wall Negating this Hezbollah capability solidifies Israel’s military superiority and widens the gap between it and the organization in a manner that could affect the balance of deterrence, which has remained stable since 2006.

By refraining from punishing the organization for these violations, beyond By taking only preventive actions against the tunnels, and not punish Hezbollah or to make destroying airstrikes nor land operations, Israel is signaling its intent to maintain the stability and calm along the border. Hezbollah, for its part, is embarrassed and lack of interest in military escalation against Israel at this stage, due to its continued military involvement in the war in Syria, which thus far has taken a heavy toll in resources and casualties (about 2000 dead and approximately 8,000 wounded, and families that need to be supported).

Cement mixers en route to the border

IDF forces continue filling the tunnels with concrete

Bottom line

In  fact word operation describing ”Northern Shield” is an overstatement as the effort consists of engineering activities performed entirely within Israeli territory, with no fire and no maneuvering elements. According IsraelDefense in internal discussions within the defense establishment, quite a few speakers thought it would have been better to avoid destroying the tunnels at this time. The proponents of that view reasoned that it would be better to allow Hezbollah to invest more and more energy in the tunnels, of which the IDF was fully aware, and destroy the tunnels in the future, only in the event of a war – or turn them into a trap.

While Operation Northern Shield is still ongoing is Israel’s attention currently focused primarily on the project run by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah to produce and convert rockets into guided long range precision missiles on Lebanese soil. This is also the main explanation for the Israel Air Force campaign during last three years to bomb the supply lines from Iran via Syria to Hezbollah.  Only last year there was over 200 IAF attacks in Syria. Recently civilian airliners have carried in direct flights from Tehran to Beirut advanced weaponry such as Global Positioning System (GPS) components that could upgrade Hezbollah’s arsenal of unguided heavy rockets into precision-guided munitions (PGMs).

.

Sources e.g: Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center , Jerusalem Post, IsraelDefense The Institute for National Security Studies

More about Hamas’ tunnel warfare and Israel’s anti-tunnel campaign e.g: Gaza’s Tunnel War Continues On All Fronts  and Underground Iron Dome i.a. Against Hamas’ Terror Tunnels

 

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: