IDF Spokesperson: Tunnel Origins Are in a Civilian Brick Factory

YERUSHALAYIM -
Israeli soldiers carry gear the morning after the IDF launched an operation to “expose and thwart” cross-border attack tunnels from Lebanon, in Israel’s northernmost town Metula, Wednesday. (Reuters/Ronen Zvulun)

The tunnel that the IDF uncovered from south Lebanon into Israel extended for some 200 meters, and originated in a quarry where blocks and bricks were made for construction, the army said Wednesday. Speaking to reporters, IDF Spokesperson Ronen Manelis said that “the tunnel was built beginning in a civilian installation, a factory for making bricks that was just a few meters away from the local United Nations headquarters and on the direct route of U.N. patrols, who are in south Lebanon to enforce U.N. Security Council 1701,” which among other things bars Hezbollah from acting in the region.

Manelis said that Israeli security forces had been observing the building and the activities taking place there since 2014, when “the civilian activity there decreased and the military activity increased. Under the guise of civilian work, we see an increase in the activities of the military forces there including trucks removing dirt – basically digging the tunnel under the building where bricks were supposedly being made. Hezbollah tried to hide it from us, from U.N. forces, and from Lebanese civilians.”

The IDF on Tuesday released for publication that it had begun an operation to destroy terror tunnels that were discovered – in northern Israel, built by Hezbollah to mount terror attacks inside Israel. Numerous underground tunnels were discovered, the IDF said, and an “ongoing campaign” to destroy them has begun in recent days. The existence of the tunnels has actually been known since 2014, the IDF said, and the army has been keeping a close eye on activity associated with them. A battle plan was drawn up to neutralize the tunnels and ensure that new ones are not built. The tunnels were found before they could constitute a “strategic threat” to Israel. In its statement, the IDF said that residents of the north should go about their normal routines, and that there was no immediate threat.

In 2015, Israeli observers noted that a generator with military markings was stationed next to the building, as was a guard tower which was always manned. It was then that construction on the tunnel apparently began. The tunnel is about 200 meters long, 25 meters of it in Israel, at a depth of 25 meters and with a width of two meters, Manelis said – “comfortable enough for a man to pass through. The tunnel had electricity and ventilation,” with much better infrastructure than the Hamas tunnels found in southern Israel.

The village where the tunnel originated, Kfar Kila, has about 15,000 largely Shiite residents. In the 1980s, many of the residents belonged to the South Lebanon Army, which was fighting the PLO and other radical Islamists; with the withdrawal of Israel from south Lebanon and the expansion of the influence of Hezbollah in the area, many joined that group. Israel built a security fence across from the village in 2012, after smugglers were caught throwing bags of drugs over the border fence to Israel.

Nabil Berry, speaker of the Lebanese parliament, said he had doubts that the village had any tunnels. “The Israeli story in Kfar Kila is inaccurate. We want the coordinates of this building and tunnel, and evidence of the Israeli allegations. If the Israelis want to dig in their occupied territories they can dig all they want, but extending that digging to Lebanese territory is another story.”

The Beirut-based Al-Gumhuriyya newspaper said that many in Lebanon believed that the tunnel story was a prelude to bigger things, stressing the meeting the night before the announcement of the IDF operation between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.