On Tuesday morning, the Israel Defense Forces launched operation ‘Northern Shield’ on the Israeli side of the border with Lebanon.
The operation is meant to destroy a number of Hezbollah attack tunnels which have been built in recent years as preparation for a future offensive against Israel which Hezbollah believes would end in the occupation of the northern Galilee.
IDF spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said the tunnels had already penetrated Israeli territory but emphasized they were not yet “operationally ready” and therefore posed "no immediate threat to Israel".
The operation against Hezbollah was launched hours after Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benyamin Netanyahu met US Secretary of Defense Mike Pompeo in Brussels, Belgium where he discussed “a list of developments in the region” with the Secretary.
One of these developments is Iran’s increasing belligerent activity in Lebanon where it has built underground missile facilities which manufacture guided ballistic missiles.
The Iranians are now also supplying Hezbollah with weapons by using planes which fly directly to Beirut National Airport in Lebanon. The carrier uses civilian aircraft and is controlled by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps which has apparently decided to change the supply routes to Hezbollah.
Before taking off from Ben Gurion National Airport, Netanyahu made clear Israel and The United States were now working in tandem to contain Iran’s “aggression”.
We are in continuous contact with our American friends, I will discuss with Mike Pompeo a list of developments in our region, and (actions) we are taking together to halt the aggression of Iran and its proxies in the North. We will of course also discuss other issues,” the Israeli PM told reporters.
On his visit to Brussels, where Pompeo attended a NATO defense ministers meeting, Netanyahu was accompanied by Mossad head Yossi Cohen and Meir Ben Shabbat the director of Israel’s National Security Council.
The Israeli leader has been warning against the growing Iranian threat to Israel for a long time and risked the fall of his government when he refused to launch a ground operation against the Iranian-backed Palestinian terror groups in Gaza after they pounded Israel with 460 missiles within two days three weeks ago.
When he faced harsh criticism over his decision not to invade Gaza the Israeli PM and DM made clear he had intelligence he could not share with the citizens and even with politicians.
After the resignation of Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman Netanyahu told the public in Israel that the Jewish State was in a complex security situation which demanded “very difficult decisions”.
“On the issue of security, I have made difficult decisions, some of them very difficult, and I bear full responsibility. And when such decisions are made, they deal with matters of life and death. In matters that sometimes even touch upon the very existence of the state,” the Prime Minister said at the time while emphasizing that the Israel military was “in the middle of a campaign.
Three weeks later, it has become clear that Netanyahu looks at the overall picture of Israel’s difficult security situation and prefers to contain the growing Iranian threat via smart and sophisticated military operations which could prevent a multiple-front-war with Iran and its proxies.
For this reason, Israel is working with the Trump Administration which has shifted its focus from battling ISIS toward containing Iran in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.
It is reasonable to believe that Netanyahu asked Pompeo to use his leverage over the Lebanese government to contain Hezbollah on the eve of Operation Northern Shield in order to prevent another war with the Iranian-backed Shiite terror organization.
Another indication the Israeli leader doesn’t want a war with Hezbollah currently is that he apparently ordered the IDF not to use explosives to destroy the attack tunnels underneath the Israeli border. The Israeli army is using heavy drill equipment instead.
Operation Northern Shield comes a few days after the Israeli military launched unprecedented missile strikes on Iranian and Hezbollah related targets in Syria.
Late Thursday evening last week, the IDF used surface-to-surface missiles and LORA long-distance artillery shells to destroy 15 Iranian and Hezbollah military targets in Syria among them the headquarters of the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps in Al-Kiswah south of Damascus.
The missile offensive lasted for 70 minutes and was answered by the launch of one rocket which fell in open territory on the Israeli Golan Heights.
By using missiles instead of aircraft the Israeli military indicated it has changed tactics in Syria now that the Russians have supplied the S-300 anti-aircraft missile shield to the Syrian army.
The US military, meanwhile, has started battling the Iranians and its proxies in east and north Syria as well as northern Iraq by using proxies as well.
The Americans are training and equipping 30.000 men of the Syrian Democratic Forces who will confront the Quds Force and Iranian-backed Shiite militias in northern and eastern Syria while the U.S. uses local Iraqi Sunni militias against the Iranian-backed Hashd al-Shaabi umbrella organization of predominantly Shiite militias in northern Iraq.
After his meeting with Netanyahu Pompeo emphasized the importance of restoring America’s deterrence vis a vis Iran and its allies.
“We are accumulating risk of escalation in the region if we fail to restore deterrence,” Pompeo said after condemning Iran for a new test with a ballistic long-range missile which can carry multiple warheads last weekend.
Iran recently supplied ballistic missiles to Hashd al-Shaabi militias which can reach Tel Aviv and which are now stationed on Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq. This is the same mountain from where Saddam Hussein lobbed Scud missiles at Israel during the First Gulf War.
PHOTO: Heavy machinery (R) work on the border between Israel and Lebanon near Metulla, northern Israel, on December 4, 2018. Photo by Basel Awidat/Flash90