Israel begins operation to expose ‘Hezbollah attack tunnels’ from Lebanon

"We are in complete control of the operation, and we are determined to remove the threat of the tunnels from Israel's northern border", IDF Spokesman Ronen Manelis said in a statement.

"We see Hezbollah's activities as a flagrant and blatant violation of Israeli sovereignty", IDF spokesman Lt. Col Jonathan Conricus said.

"The United States has repeatedly warned the world about Iran's deliberate efforts to destabilize the Middle East and defy global norms", U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said in a statement. "The Security Council behind me had said in a clear voice to Hezbollah that it must not arm itself and continue its terrorist activities against Israel".

The terror organization's media outlets chose to stress the calm prevailing in southern Lebanon despite the IDF operation, covering it with utter contempt, and casting doubt over Israeli claims of its necessity, while denying the existence of the terror tunnels.

The Israel Defense Forces announced the discovery of the tunnels and began destroying them on Monday night.

The Israeli military launched an operation on Tuesday to "expose and thwart" tunnels it says were built by the Hezbollah militant group that stretch from Lebanon into northern Israel. The army declared the town of Metulla, located on the Israeli-Lebanese border not far from the occupied Golan Heights, a closed military zone. "We are beginning to assess and analyze the findings", Conricus said. "We also took pictures of Hezbollah operatives on the border", Zamir Hatan, from the northern border village of Shtula, told Israeli Radio. An Israeli military source said the operation might take weeks to complete.

Hezbollah had not yet reacted and the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon said that there no signs of any increased tension, as Israeli bulldozers went to work.

Three months ago when the Israeli prime minister said at the UN General Assembly that Hezbollah has been turning Southern Lebanon into a depot of Iranian missiles, Hezbollah said its response is one of "deliberate silence".

The military has used various means to collapse or fill in tunnels from the Gaza Strip.

The Lebanese border village of Kfar Kila is seen behind the barrier wall as Israeli army personnel and heavy machinery work on the Israeli side of the border in Israel's northernmost town Metula early morning

The IDF earlier noted that the tunnel uncovered from Lebanon was significantly larger than those dug by Hamas in Gaza.

Additionally, the Lebanese army command said that it is watching the situation closely, reiterating its readiness to confront any emergency situation.

Israel and Hezbollah have avoided any major conflict across the Lebanese-Israeli border since their last war in 2006, though Israel has mounted attacks in Syria targeting what it said were advanced weapon deliveries to the Shi'ite group.

Those events led to the resignation of his right-wing defense minister, Avigdor Liberman, and left his ruling coalition hanging by a thread, with a one-seat majority in the Knesset, or parliament.

The premier had said that elections now would be "irresponsible" due to the undefined security threats.

His comments were seen by some as an attempt to save his government, with polls showing wide disapproval of his handling of a Gaza flare-up in November.

The move comes just days after Israeli police on Sunday recommended for a third time that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu be indicted on fraud and bribery charges in a scheme to get positive media coverage.

Conricus said that while the army has boosted its presence in the north for the Lebanon operation, it has not summoned reserve soldiers.

"For a number of years, the IDF General Staff has been leading this effort, which recently reached the necessary operational conditions", the army explained in a statement.

Vanessa Coleman

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