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December 9, 2018 9:27 am

Tunnel Vision and UNIFIL

avatar by Ruthie Blum / JNS.org

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UNIFIL peacekeepers patrol the border with Israel near the Lebanese village of Kfar Kila, Dec. 4, 2018. Photo: Reuters / Aziz Taher.

JNS.org Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu phoned UN Secretary General António Guterres on Wednesday and demanded that he and the rest of the international community condemn the Iran-backed Shi’ite terrorist organization Hezbollah for constructing cross-border attack tunnels from Lebanon into Israel.

A day earlier, the Israel Defense Forces had launched Operation Northern Shield to locate and destroy a network of tunnels aimed at providing Hezbollah terrorists with a quick and easy way to infiltrate Israel, and potentially kidnap and kill innocent people. The tunnels are part of Hezbollah’s “Conquest of the Galilee” plan, to be implemented at the start of its next war against Israel.

No surprise there.

Like its patrons in Tehran, Hezbollah has been open about its mission to annihilate the “Zionist enemy.” As recently as last week, in fact, Iran’s terrorist proxy released a video of satellite images pointing to coordinates in central Israel, with the accompanying general threat: “Attack and you will regret it.”

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A 2015 report in the pro-Hezbollah Lebanese newspaper As-Safir was more specific, as it included quotes from Hezbollah members discussing the group’s cross-border tunnels. That Israeli officials neither verified nor denied the report was to be expected. Security considerations and anti-terrorism strategies are often at the root of silence on the part of Israel’s defense establishment.

Today, however, the IDF says that Operation Northern Shield has been in the works for a “number of years.” It also claims to have been aware of Hezbollah’s tunnel-building since 2006, after the end of the Second Lebanon War.

This is disturbing for two reasons.

First, in the summer of 2014 during Operation Protective Edge — Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza — residents of Israeli northern border communities complained of suspicious “clanging” and loud drilling noises under their homes. They expressed fear that Hezbollah was digging terror tunnels beneath the Lebanese border in the same way that Hamas had been doing in Gaza.

The mayor of the northern Israeli city of Kiryat Shemona sent a letter to then-Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon requesting that he investigate the matter as soon as possible, taking into account that the Gaza war was still going on.

A few months later, in January 2015, Ya’alon announced, “We have been examining every single complaint by residents of the north who say they hear construction and drilling sounds underground, and so far we have found nothing. If Hezbollah wants to infiltrate Israel, they don’t need tunnels.”

In other words, the Israeli defense establishment either had no clue about Hezbollah tunnel activity, which is worrisome in and of itself, or was lying about it to the people who heard it with their own ears. The only positive thing about Israel’s exposure of the tunnels this week, then, is that it completely vindicated the people whose apprehension was dismissed as some kind of auditory illusion. They are owed a sincere apology.

The second and more important cause for distress surrounding the tunnel network is the utterly useless presence of the UN Force in Lebanon. UNIFIL was originally established in 1978 after Operation Litani, Israel’s attack on PLO bases in southern Lebanon. The operation was a just and necessary response to the Coastal Road massacre of dozens of innocent Israelis — many of them children — by Palestinian terrorists. UNIFIL’s mandate was to “confirm the withdrawal of Israeli forces from southern Lebanon.”

This mandate was expanded in 2006 as part of UN Resolution 1701, which ended the Israel-Hezbollah war. This past August, the Security Council unanimously voted to extend it for an additional year. Welcoming the move, UNIFIL’s chief, Maj. Gen. Stefano Del Col, said that it “demonstrates the continuing commitment of the international community to maintaining peace and stability in south Lebanon while encouraging the parties to work towards a permanent ceasefire.”

This is worse than laughable. UNIFIL has done nothing since the 2006 war but sit back and relax while Hezbollah proceeded to rebuild its massive and increasingly sophisticated arsenal, courtesy of Iran, aimed at wiping Israel off the map. And the so-called “commitment of the international community to maintaining peace” has consisted mainly of supporting UN resolutions condemning Israel. Last month alone, nine such resolutions were passed in a single day.

Meanwhile, the government of Lebanon, which is so keen on keeping UNIFIL in place, insists that Israel “has shown no proof” of Hezbollah border tunnels. Yeah, right. The IDF team that participated Wednesday in a pre-scheduled trilateral meeting with Del Col and members of the Lebanese Armed Forces must have forgotten to come with a PowerPoint presentation.

Netanyahu, therefore, should not hold his breath waiting for UN cooperation. Instead, he should conserve his energy for the urgent tasks at hand: foiling Hezbollah and fending off Iran.

Ruthie Blum is an Israel-based journalist and author of To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the Arab Spring.

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