By Shai Rubin
This month the IDF is marking a year since the end of Operation Northern Shield for the discovery and neutralization of Hezbollah tunnels. During that year, the Isreli military experienced a number of other notable occurrences in the northern border region, such as the incident in which Hezbollah fired an anti-tank missile at an IDF force in the area of Avivim. But the IDF’s activities in the field of tunnels and in the field of combat engineering did not end with Operation Northern Shield. Military sources emphasize that despite Hezbollah’s great surprise at the thwarting of its attack tunnel project, the IDF continues to monitor the activity in this field in order to prevent the possibility of the renewed digging of tunnels that penetrate into Israeli territory.
Thus, for example, the IDF is implementing its “Paving Stone” project, intended to block the threat of the tunnels, along the Lebanese border. In addition, regarding the eastern section of the border, the IDF announced last week that it has begun preventive engineering work in the area of Misgav Am. The IDF spokesman, Brig. Gen. Hidai Zilberman, said this week that the activity was not a response to new intelligence information on tunnels, but rather an “insurance policy”.
One of the tunnels that was discovered and neutralized in the framework of Northern Shield was the tunnel that originated from the Lebanese village of Ramia and penetrated about 250 meters into Israeli territory, just several minutes by foot from the towns of Zarit and Shtula. During a tour of the area, Lieutenant Colonel Yitzhak Huri, deputy commander of Brigade 300, emphasized the message that the IDF has been closely monitoring the underground activity of Hezbollah ever since the operation.
“We knew about [the Ramia tunnel] for several years. We chose the time and place to launch the operation. We are continuously and ceaselessly monitoring them. It is something that’s happening all the time. On the other side there is the digging of underground defenses, but not something that penetrates deeply into Israeli territory. It is a type of defensive entrenchment that they are doing, and we see it and we are monitoring it.”
Lt. Col. Huri said during a discussion with Israel Defense that Hezbollah’s surprise from Operation Northern Shield, and the activity being carried out to this day, deter Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah from continuing underground attack activities. “The other side”, he said, “tried to create something strategic here, that would surprise us at a number of points in the northern sector, and we neutralized one offensive capability - namely the ability of surprise regarding tunneling. When you work on a tunnel for ten years, make progress at a very complex pace, invest a huge amount of resources, do it in a manner that is compartmentalized, and in the end you discover that the IDF knows everything - of course it deters them. We know unequivocally that it deters them. There is no doubt that we are continuously monitoring them, which also causes deterrence.
"We are preparing surprises for the enemy”
“One of the things we are doing is the ‘Paving Stone’ project, which extends along the sector. It involves the closing and fortification of the border. In addition, [it includes] the technological means of observation, radars, firepower, fences and walls. All of this [is here.] without the diverse system of forces. We have been here in much greater force for the past year. During both Northern Shield and the [period of] tension with Hezbollah, the IDF was the one who took the initiative. We decided that it was the right time to neutralize the tunnels; we decided that it was the right time to take action in Syria and Lebanon. We are preparing surprises for the enemy, and if we’re given the order, the other side will suffer a very great blow,” Huri said.
Sending a forceful message to Hezbollah, Lieut. Col. Huri added that “Anyone who crosses into Israeli territory will not return. Even if they think otherwise, they simply will not return - because today the firepower is a million times stronger than it was in the past, and in a second we can burn everything on the other side.”
Learning from the enemy
Over the past year, along with the neutralization of the significant threat posed by Hezbollah underground, the IDF studied the enemy’s abilities, and is taking on the project of foiling its efforts. “We understand the enemy,” a military source in the sector told Israel Defense, “Digging here was not easy. We understand the enemy’s ability and its determination digging in this area. We understand that there is a possible threat here, so we’re looking into it all the time. We studied the threat as a brigade, as a division. We established a company that specializes in the tunneling field, which learns from here and from other places how to deal with, discover and neutralize tunnels.”
The same source also addressed another activity of the IDF in the framework of the tension in the north - in the context of tension with Hezbollah that occurred several months ago. “We dealt with all of the matters concerning the back roads and their vulnerabilities. We have been dealing with it since things heated up recently due to the tension with Hezbollah. Actually we are creating roads on which the forces can move in the field without being threatened, such as by Hezbollah’s anti-tank threat. We have built a number of roads up to now and there are plans for additional roads. It prepares us for the daily routine and for emergencies,” the source said.
One of the challenges that the IDF dealt with during Northern Shield and several years beforehand was local residents’ fear of the developing threat that is Hezbollah. Military officers responsible for ties with citizens in routine times and emergencies pointed out that the residents’ fears, as well as information they provided, helped the IDF draw a picture of the situation regarding Hezbollah’s tunnels.
The area defense officer of Brigade 300, Major Amir Mula, said in a conversation with Israel Defense that “In one moment the level of fear dropped to almost zero during Northern Shield. There were reports by citizens of digging all the time. It grew during Operation Protective Edge and the discovery of tunnels in the south. During the same period I wrote very clear regulations on how to deal with such a report. We started to monitor these reports. We used the information from the citizens during the operation to make comparisons with what [our] intelligence said. We dealt with every [citizen] report, and when the time came, we used the information.”