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December 10, 2018 9:43 am

The Fog of War Can’t Conceal Hezbollah’s Plotting

avatar by Yoav Limor / 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 / Ali Hashisho.

JNS.orgNorthern Israel was covered by thick fog over ‎the weekend, with near-zero visibility. The ‎rain came and went, mostly drizzling and ‎turning everything that was not concrete into mud. ‎

Someone just passing through would probably be ‎unable to tell anything was wrong, or that the entire area ‎was on edge. The partial military restrictions ‎imposed on a section of the border when Operation ‎Northern Shield was launched last week have already ‎been lifted, and nothing could be seen of a military ‎presence beyond the sporadic military vehicle ‎driving around. For all intents and purposes, this ‎was just another rainy Saturday in northern Israel. ‎

This facade, however, successfully hid the IDF’s nonstop ‎efforts to ‎neutralize Hezbollah terror tunnels snaking under ‎the Israel-Lebanon border.‎

The decision to continue the search for tunnels over ‎the weekend was unorthodox, and not only because it ‎involved operations on Shabbat. The work was hindered ‎by the stormy weather, but the complex engineering ‎and logistics effort involved in this intense ‎operation never waned. If anything, the IDF kept ‎pushing and everyone — from GOC Northern Command ‎Maj. Gen. Yoel Strick to the last special combat ‎engineering soldier deployed on the ground — seemed ‎to be accelerating the pace.‎

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A security incident interrupted the work on Saturday, ‎when IDF commandos securing the operation came ‎across three Hezbollah operatives trying to exploit ‎the fog to steal technical equipment. The troops ‎opened fire and the three fled, but the incident ‎stressed the prudence of increasing military ‎deployment along the border, as the threat is very ‎real. ‎

Hezbollah may be biding its time quietly at the moment, but it may very well retaliate — not just verbally (though Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah is sure to give a fiery speech eventually) — but also physically, on the battlefield. There is real concern ‎that Hezbollah operatives could booby-trap one of the ‎tunnels, plant roadside bombs, or ‎try to target the Israeli troops with sniper fire. ‎These scenarios are passed on to the soldiers in ‎every security briefing.

But the military effort on the ground is only part of ‎the overall effort. In the background, the Israeli ‎Air Force is gearing up for potential escalation, and ‎Military Intelligence is fully engaged as well.

Another important aspect is the international diplomatic effort, in which Israel engages in ‎massive public diplomacy. ‎Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been briefing ‎world leaders on the issue since last week, ‎including — and perhaps most importantly — Russian ‎President Vladimir Putin.‎ The United Nations Security Council is expected to ‎discuss a draft resolution condemning Lebanon on ‎Monday over the fact that it turns a blind eye to ‎Hezbollah’s activities. Israel would like to see ‎Russia refrain from using its veto power on the ‎issue.‎

Israel would also like to see international pressure on the Lebanese government stir up a ‎public debate in that country, and prompt criticism of ‎the Shiite terrorist group despite the considerable ‎political power it wields. Lebanon has so far ‎remained indifferent, but it is doubtful whether ‎Beirut can keep that up for long. Operation ‎Northern Shield is expected to last several weeks, ‎and the daily media attention to the issue will turn ‎the spotlight on Lebanon’s actions or lack thereof. ‎

Still, nothing essential is likely to change, ‎except, of course, for the fact that Israel has deprived ‎Hezbollah of a major strategic asset. This cannot be ‎taken lightly, as one need not have a particularly ‎wild imagination to understand what Hezbollah had ‎planned for Metula and other Israeli communities ‎along the border. Some of the tunnels were on the ‎verge of becoming operational in the coming weeks. If an attack had been launched using those tunnels, the first question for the ‎political echelon and the IDF would have been, “If ‎you knew, why didn’t you do anything?”‎

Yoav Limor is a veteran Israeli journalist and columnist for Israel Hayom.

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