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Closing Hezbollah tunnels only first step in Israel's northern operation

Israel's Operation Northern Shield will not only neutralize Hezbollah's attack tunnels, but also allow the completion of a massive construction project to defend the border.
Flags of Hezbollah, Lebanon and Palestine are seen fluttering near the border with Israel in the village of Khiam, Lebanon December 4, 2018. REUTERS/Ali Hashisho - RC1797CA76B0

The quiet on the Israel-Lebanon border had never been this tense. From the beginning of Operation Northern Shield on Dec. 4, Israel has been locating, marking and booby-trapping terror tunnels dug by Hezbollah into its territory, with the ultimate intention of blowing up the tunnels. Thus, a rather bizarre situation has been created on the Blue Line, the border between the two states outlined by the United Nations in 2007 after the Second Lebanon War. The Israel Defense Forces, with its special forces and engineering tools, is working diligently with heavy drills and bulldozers to uncover tunnels on the southern side. Only a few meters away, the Lebanese army is openly observing them, while Hezbollah watches covertly. Add the Lebanese media, some members of which are affiliated with Hezbollah, making themselves comfortable on the Blue Line only five meters from the Israelis. The two sides, armed to the teeth, stare at each other from practically zero range. Both are apprehensive of a spark that would set the region on fire.

For the Israelis, the operation is advancing according to plan. The only mishap has been a diplomatic one: For the first time in a long while, the United States refused to stand up for Israel and impose sanctions on Lebanon. Israeli policy, which views Lebanon and Hezbollah as one entity, has not yet been fully accepted by Washington. The Americans have committed to further pressuring Hezbollah and imposing additional sanctions, but are determined to maintain efficacious relations with the Lebanese government. It has taken much of the wind from Israel’s diplomatic sails because Israel constantly emphasizes that in the next confrontation, it will “send Lebanon back to the Stone Age.” In other words, attacks by Hezbollah would be met with an Israeli military response that would also target Lebanese infrastructure. This stance is in direct contrast to the policy of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in the Second Lebanon War. At this stage, both sides are focusing on not getting ahead of themselves and being dragged into “the next conflict” in the coming days. It is not easy for either side.

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