IDF Spokesman Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis presented Tuesday footage of Hezbollah terrorists approaching a hidden camera inside a tunnel located on the Lebanese border. The camera was placed by the IDF earlier on Tuesday, as part of Operation Northern Shield to expose and neutralize terror tunnels built by Hezbollah along the border.
The video captures two Hezbollah terrorists approaching the hidden IDF camera and running away from it, as a device, which was attached to it, explodes.
The footage was shown at the beginning of a special press conference held by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot at the Kirya Headquarters in Tel Aviv.
IDF spokesperson revealed additional information about the tunnel which was discovered and neutralized by the IDF. "The tunnel was dug underneath a civilian building that served as a civilian block factory until 2014, only a few meters away from United Nations Interim Force's (UNIFIL) post and patrols," he said.
"A few minutes after the beginning of the operation, we placed a hidden camera 25-meter deep inside the tunnel. A few minutes after the camera was placed, you can see two Hezbollah terrorists approaching the camera, and detonating a small bomb which was attached to it. In a matter of minutes, the small device is replaced by a larger bomb that prevents operational use inside other tunnels," Manelis explained.
After the footage was shown, the prime minister said that Operation Northern Shield, the Israeli military's operation to destroy cross-border tunnels constructed by the Iran-backed Shi’ite militia "will continue until all its objectives are met."
"This is not a limited operation, it is a broad and ongoing operation...For years, Hezbollah and Hamas invested huge sums and efforts in building tunnels and hiding them. Well, the army is methodically, calmly, and decisively dismantling this weapon," Netanyahu stated.
"I want to express special appreciation to the Chief of Staff for leading the operation, as well as to former defense minister Avigdor Lieberman, who helped prepare this operation," he continued.
"Only two weeks ago I said that in order to ensure the security of Israel, we need to be patient and stay calm. I also said that there is more than meets the eye. Today, I want to tell you that what you see now is only a small part of the overall picture of the action we have taken and continue to take to ensure Israel's security in all sectors," the prime minister and minister of defense added.
"The operation is due to last several weeks and will be led by the head of the IDF Northern Command Maj. Gen. Yoel Strick," IDF chief of staff Eisenkot said in a statement. According to Eisenkot, the cabinet approved the operation on November 17 when "conditions were ripe.”
The army chief added the operation was launched before the tunnels became operational and “posed an immediate and direct threat to northern communities and IDF bases in the north.”
The operation that led to a cease-fire with Hamas
Shortly before the press conference, a special Security Cabinet meeting was held. During the meeting, the ministers received updates on the operation, which was finally approved at a cabinet meeting last Wednesday.
However, Operation Northern Shield was discussed at several cabinet meetings, including the dramatic meeting on November 13, in which the cease-fire deal with Hamas was approved.
On his first day in the Defense Ministry, Netanyahu hinted at a dramatic event that led to the cease-fire deal. It is now clear that the tunnel threat was one of the factors that influenced the decision to refrain from a military operation in Gaza.
However, the tunnel threat was not the only factor that influenced the cabinet's decision. According to several ministers, there were additional considerations that led to the cease-fire deal with Hamas which are related to the north.
The army pressed the cabinet to carry out the operation at this time, a proposal which was raised even before Avigdor Lieberman's resignation as minister of defense. "It was clear to those present that Lieberman objected to the operation in the north for political reasons," cabinet ministers said, while rejecting the claims that there was a connection between the timing of the operation and the prime minister's investigation.
During the discussions, the army estimated that the operation would not lead to an escalation in the north. However, they did not rule out the possibility that the operation might spill into a military conflict. This is a hard strategic blow to Hezbollah, which keeps losing a significant offensive tool, in addition to an intelligence failure.
One tunnel has already been found, stretching from a residential structure in the south of Kafr Kela in Lebanon and reaching 40 meters (130 feet) into Israeli territory. The IDF said it took Hezbollah two years to dig the 200-meters-long (656 feet) tunnel in the rocky terrain, adding there are longer tunnels.
The tunnel is about two meters tall and two meters wide (6 feet 7 inches) and includes ventilation systems, electricity and piping. It was dug 25 meters (82 feet) underground. Unlike the tunnels Hamas is digging in Gaza, Hezbollah's tunnel does not require concrete walls as it is supported by the rocky terrain it was dug through.
Hezbollah is closely monitoring the activities of IDF forces and has distributed video clips and close-up pictures of soldiers and officers on the border during the operation.
Large UNIFIL forces were deployed Tuesday on both sides of the border. In addition, dozens of UN soldiers came to monitor and document the events in an attempt to calm the situation and prevent escalation.
Moreover, the airspace 6 kilometers from the Lebanese border was closed Tuesday for civilian flights. The airspace will be closed until Wednesday at 5pm. The IDF has also mobilized artillery and conducted a partial mobilization of reservists as part of the operation to expose and neutralize Hezbollah tunnels on the Lebanese border.
IDF officials estimated the operation would last a few weeks, but noted that "some of the actions will be precise and others less so. We hold a broader picture than the route itself, including where each tunnel came from."