December 5, 2018
The Israeli News Agency (INA) reported on 3 December that The Israeli Defence Force (IDF) was “on highest alert as operation Northern Shield to destroy Hezbollah tunnels was under way.”
“Iran just supplied Hezbollah with weapons. IDF knows all offensive targets in Lebanon and Iran. IDF reservists called up. Air force, Navy prepared to engage Iran with NATO,” the Israeli News Agency added.
Meanwhile Haaretz reported on 3 December that Israel is shifting its battle with Iran to Lebanon, after two years of attacking Iranian targets in Syria to prevent Iran from establishing its military presence in that country.
Haaretz further reported that “IDF is disturbed by Hezbollah honing its skills in the Syria war and sending some of its units back to Lebanon. Over the border, the Lebanese are increasingly suspicious of Israel, and their wariness is turning into threats.” The paper opined that after Iran changed its behavior under Russia’s pressures, the battle between Israel and Iran will be dragged into other countries.
A former Israeli military intelligence chief says “Iran has changed its tactics in Syria but it is moving everything from Syria to Lebanon.”
The report was released on Monday at a time Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his intelligence chief were meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Brussels.
Netanyahu tweeted before leaving for Brussels: “I am leaving for Brussels for an important meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. I will discuss with @SecPompeo a series of regional developments as well as the steps we are taking together to block the aggression of Iran and its proxies in the north.”
Later, he addressed Pompeo in a tweet: ” I look forward to discussing with you how we can together curb Iran’s aggression in the region, in Syria, in Iraq, in Lebanon and elsewhere.”
This was the first of a series of tweets in which he explained the importance of operation Northern Shield. Likewise, Israeli Foreign Minister also tweeted his take on the operation releasing further details: ” The #terror tunnels built by #Hezbollah, crossing from Lebanon into Israel, are a gross violation of Israeli sovereignty & #UNSC Res 1701. Israel launched Op #NorthernShield to neutralize these tunnels & to protect its citizens and its territory from Hezbollah’s aggression.”
Observers in Lebanon say the operation is possibly an attempt at escalating the situation, though there’s no clear indication of an upcoming war. The Lebanese media are broadcasting factual reporting on the development, not making a big deal out of it. Politicians are also relatively quiet.
The Jerusalem Post reported December 5 that the existence of the tunnels were known for some time, as border area residents have been telling the army of hearing noises for years. This brings up the question of Israeli timing to reveal the story and highlight the potential threat from Hezbollah.
Three months ago when the Israeli prime minister said at the UN General Assembly that Hezbollah has been turning Southern Lebanon into a depot of Iranian missiles, Hezbollah said its response is one of “deliberate silence.”
The Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri has ruled out Israeli claims, but Israeli media say “Fars Air Qeshm” flights from Iran to Lebanon are carrying suspicious cargo containing weapons for Hezbollah. One such flight to Beirut last Thursday was followed by an Israeli air raid.
One day later, Hezbollah threatened to attack Israeli military and nuclear establishments and showed a video containing satellite imagery of those targets. Meanwhile, an Israeli military commander has suggested that Israel should resume targeted attacks on terrorist organizations and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.
The operation could have been a reaction to Iran test firing a ballistic missile. Secretary Pompeo on Saturday said Iran tested a medium-range ballistic missile, violating a United Nations resolution. Meanwhile, France and UK also said that the missile test may breach a UN resolution that calls on Iran to stop developing missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads.
Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has denied the missile’s nuclear capability.
However, following a UN Security Council meeting on Tuesday, some of the 15 ambassadors present at the meeting expressed concern over Iran’s action but no new resolution was adopted and no joint statement issued despite a U.S. call for council members to condemn Iran’s weekend ballistic missile test, which Washington described as “dangerous and concerning.”
“The United States has repeatedly warned the world about Iran’s deliberate efforts to destabilize the Middle East and defy international norms,” U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said in a statement. “The international community cannot keep turning a blind eye every time Iran blatantly ignores Security Council resolutions.”