Hezbollah says ‘not one spot’ in Israel safe from group’s rockets

The comments by Hezbollah’s deputy leader are the first since Israel launched an operation to expose and neutralize cross-border attack tunnels dug by the Lebanese group

FILE PHOTO: An Israeli soldier guards near the border with Lebanon, the morning after the Israeli military said it had launched an operation to "expose and thwart" cross-border attack tunnels from Lebanon, in Israel's northernmost town Metula December 5, 2018. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/File Photo
Powered by automated translation

Hezbollah rockets can reach any target inside Israel, including the capital Tel Aviv, the deputy head of the Lebanese group said on Sunday in the first comments by a party official since Israel launched an operation to uncover and destroy tunnels dug beneath the shared frontier.

“Ever since the 2006 [war with Hezbollah], Israel has been deterred by the capabilities of the Lebanese resistance,” Naim Qassem said in an interview with the Iranian Al Wifaq newspaper.

“The entire domestic front in Israel, including Tel Aviv, is exposed. There is not a single spot in this Zionist entity that is not exposed to Hezbollah’s rockets,” Qassem was quoted as saying.

The Israeli army said it has so far located three cross-border tunnels running from Lebanon after uncovering additional passageways over the weekend as they work to destroy what they believe are built by Iran-backed Hezbollah.

"The IDF has located an additional Hezbollah cross-border attack tunnel," spokesman Lt Col Jonathan Conricus said, refusing to give details on its precise location or dimensions.

"The tunnel crosses into Israel, like the first tunnel it is not yet operational and does not pose an imminent threat to Israeli communities," he said in a briefing with journalists on Saturday.

On Tuesday, the army launched an operation dubbed "Northern Shield" to destroy tunnels it said were dug under the border by Hezbollah, sharing images of one found near the Israeli town of Metula.

Mr Conricus said on Saturday that the army had placed explosives in the newly exposed tunnel to prevent its use as a means to infiltrate Israel, but had not yet destroyed it.

He said the Israeli military had issued warnings in Arabic to residents of southern Lebanon to stay away.

The first tunnel uncovered reportedly passed from the Lebanese Kfar Kila to Metula, another passed from Lebanon’s Ramyeh across to Zarit.

A picture taken on December 5, 2018 in the southern Lebanese village of Kfar Kila near the border with Israel shows Israeli machinery (top) operating next to the concrete border wall. Israel had announced on December 4 that it had discovered Hezbollah tunnels infiltrating its territory from Lebanon and launched an operation to destroy them. / AFP / Mahmoud ZAYYAT
Across from the Lebanese village of Kfar Kila, Israeli machinery operate next to the concrete border wall. AFP

Fog and heavy rain slowed the progress of Israeli military units searching the border area. While the army did not give details of locations or specifications of the tunnels, they shared images of soldiers caked in mud working around the reported sites.

Hezbollah social media accounts have not directly addressed the veracity of the claims nor responded directly, although they have reported the news of the search as well as adding that the Israeli military is extremely worried about the development.

Unifil, the UN peacekeeping force stationed in south Lebanon, said last week that it had sent teams to inspect the first tunnel uncovered by Israel and confirmed it was real but did not confirm that it had been built by Hezbollah.

Following the army's announcement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the operation to track the tunnels "is in its beginning".

"We'll continue to act till its completion," he said in a statement.

Commenting on the operation along the Lebanese border, Israeli analysts and experts have warned against over-playing the importance of attack tunnels, by arguing that Hezbollah’s strengths lie in the group’s rocket arsenal.

Amos Yadlin, Executive Director of Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), said this week that the operation to demolish the tunnels “is important, but it should not be inflated beyond what it is.

“The tunnels are not Hezbollah's ace. Hezbollah's ace is its firepower,” he was quoted as saying.

Read more: 

Lebanon-Israel border tense after minister threatens incursion 

Lebanon quietly defiant as Israel destroys Hezbollah tunnel

Hezbollah's history of tunnel warfare

Lebanon says Netanyahu is hiding behind tunnels to deflect from domestic woes


Mr Netanyahu has been accused of using the discovery to deflect attention from the news that Israeli police had recommended prosecutors indict the prime minister and his wife over bribery.

Conricus said the military was aware of the third tunnel leading from south Lebanon into Israel but did not have its exact location.

He said they had asked UNIFIL to "take action and block the tunnel on the Lebanese side".

Israel also opened fire at what they perceived to be three "Hezbollah activists" approaching the border near Yiftah, south of Metula, where the army was carrying out engineering work.

Conricus said the army believed the three individuals intended to take sensors the Israeli soldiers had placed in the ground as part of their efforts to uncover tunnels.

Lebanon's state-run National News Agency said Israeli forces fired shots in the air east of the village of Mays Al-Jabal after they had been surprised because of heavy fog by a routine Lebanese army patrol.

A picture taken on December 5, 2018 from the souther Lebanese village of Kfar Kila shows Israeli soldiers walking near the site of an Israeli excavation site for reported Hezbollah-dug tunnels along the Lebanon-Israel border. Israel had announced on December 4 that it had discovered Hezbollah tunnels infiltrating its territory from Lebanon and launched an operation to destroy them. / AFP / Mahmoud ZAYYAT
An image from the southern Lebanese village of Kfar Kila shows Israeli soldiers walking near the site of an Israeli excavation of reported Hezbollah-dug tunnels. AFP

Also Saturday, the Kremlin said Mr Netanyahu called Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose forces are fighting on the same side as Hezbollah in Syria, to tell him about the tunnel operation.

Mr Putin "stressed the need to ensure stability along the line separating Israel and Lebanon", the Russian embassy in Israel said.

Mr Netanyahu's office said he reiterated "Israel's policy to prevent the establishment of an Iranian presence in Syria and to act against Iranian and Hezbollah aggression".

Israel has carried out hundreds of air strikes in Syria against what it says are Iranian military targets and deliveries of advanced arms to Hezbollah.

However, a friendly fire incident in Syria in September that led to the downing of a Russian plane by Syrian air defences during an Israeli strike has complicated Israeli operations.

Iran-backed Hezbollah is the only group in Lebanon not to have disarmed after the country's 1975-1990 civil war.

It vowed to liberate all Israeli occupied territory having driven Tel Aviv to retreat from south Lebanon in 2000 after a bloody guerrilla campaign. Israel still occupies the Shebaa Farms area and the northern half of Ghajar village, despite international and UN calls for them to withdraw.

Israel fought a war against Hezbollah in 2006