Five days into Israel’s operation to clear Hizballah’s cross-border tunnels, the silence from its headquarters in Beirut is turning out on Saturday, Dec. 8, to be a ploy for goading Israel into keeping going until it becomes necessary to take the operation across into Lebanon. Hassan Nasrallah will then have his pretext for hitting back.
This stage is not yet at hand. Meanwhile, bad weather conditions ares laying a second layer of fog on a murky near-standoff, as outlined by DEBKAfile:
- The IDF operation is keeping going along the border from Metulah to Western Galilee. Soldiers are grouped in between the earth-moving trucks in areas where more tunnels have been marked out. None of them have crossed the border – as yet.
- On Saturday afternoon, three Hizballah agents, under cover of heavy mist, crept close up to the IDF digging squads in the Kadesh valley between Kibbutz Yiftah, Ramot Naftali and Kibbutz Malkia, They apparently came from the Lebanese village of Blaideh and were probably sent to find out if the Israeli troops had crossed the border and check their equipment. They vamoosed when the soldiers fired in the air. This incident tied in with the disappearance of two heavy machine guns sitting on a self-propelled gun facing a target in Lebanon. It is assumed that a second Hizballah squad, or some Lebanese intruder familiar with the ground, spotted the weapons unguarded outside and made off with them.
- On Saturday evening, the IDF spokesman revealed that a second tunnel had been unearthed, that the unit was in control of its full length and had booby-trapped it.
- Non-disclosure of this tunnel’s location was a step in the IDF’s move on Thursday to test UNIFIL Chief Maj. Gen. Stefano Del Col. He was asked to inspect the South Lebanese villages for tunnels in keeping with his mission, with a view to destroying them jointly with the Lebanese army. IDF generals had no illusions that this tactic would work, but Israel’s policy-makers needed to show the Trump administration proof that the Lebanese army was not an independent entity but a tool of Hizballah.
- Del Col did in fact call on the Lebanese Chief of Staff Gen. Joseph Aoun on Friday to request permission for UNIFIL monitors to enter suspect Lebanese villages with a Lebanese army escort. The next day, a Lebanese source claimed the tunnels were “old, deserted and half were in a state of collapse” and the IDF operation was trumped-up for political benefit. This line accorded with Hizballah propagandists’ efforts to play down the whole enterprise.
- All this presents Israel with a quandary: To refute the Lebanese claims and prove that Operation Northern Shield, and its huge intelligence, logistic and information investment, were justified by the scale of the threat, the IDF needs to transfer the operation to the Lebanese end for its final stage. Hizballah and the Lebanese army are already gearing up to make sure that this stage takes place under fire.