Hezbollah Responds to Israel’s Tunnel Operation with Bemused Incredulity

Published December 6th, 2018 - 10:00 GMT
Even if Israel's tunnel-blasting operation ends successfully, the real threat is still ahead as Hezbollah’s precision missile project continues (Twitter)
Even if Israel's tunnel-blasting operation ends successfully, the real threat is still ahead as Hezbollah’s precision missile project continues (Twitter)

Hezbollah and its allies in the region have responded to Israel’s Operation Northern Shield with bemused incredulity.

On the Lebanese side of the border, some media have broadcast images of Israel’s work to dismantle the tunnels, but in general the response has been tepid. Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri said on Wednesday that Lebanon guards its sovereignty, an insinuation that Lebanon had not allowed the tunnels to be built and enter Israel. The statement was designed to make it seem the government was unaware of their existence.

The central narrative of media sources that tend to be sympathetic to Hezbollah is to portray Israel’s activity as an “internal” Israeli issue. For instance Al-Maaydeen ran an article questioning the reasons behind Israel’s operation.

“Israel has a crisis in its inability to launch an aggression against Lebanon and Syria,” the website of the satellite television station said. The whole offensive was “fabricated,” the article asserts. It has more to do with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s battle with his own government after the “failure” in Gaza. This references the clashes with Hamas in November in which Hamas fired 460 rockets at Israel and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman resigned. The article then claims that Israel has been curtailed from entering Syrian airspace after Russia deployed the S-300 defense system with Syrian air defense. “Israel launched missiles remotely on November 29,” the article asserts, referring to air strikes that took place south of Damascus which it blamed on Israel.

Al-Akhbar, a Lebanese daily, also had an article Thursday claiming the search for the tunnels by Israel was an internal Israeli issue and that it would not likely escalate. The article consisted primarily of discussions about what Israeli media are saying about the operation.


Al-Manar, which is affiliated with Hezbollah, ran an article detailing how the Lebanese army has sought to confirm Israel’s claims of tunnels. It also noted that Lebanon demanded Israel return Sheba Farms, a disputed border area controlled by Israel that Hezbollah has long used as an excuse to maintain its arsenal of “resistance.”

At the same time, as media have downplayed the operation and portrayed it as an Israeli issue, unlikely to affect Lebanon, the military and political elites in Lebanon have sought to demand proof that the tunnels came from Lebanon or entered Israeli territory. The Lebanese army has said that, so far, Israeli activity along the border has not entered Lebanese territory.

The review of regional media’s reactions to Israel’s Northern Shield operation reveals a very tepid response. This is particularly true among Iranian pro-regime media, Syria’s state media and those channels that are sympathetic to Hezbollah. These outlets usually have similar narratives and Iran’s especially has been in the habit of boasting reverently about various new missiles and programs that threaten Israel.

Yet in the last few days, Tehran has been more quiet in its approach. Similarly Hezbollah’s boasting has been reduced. Last Friday, Hezbollah released a video threatening sites throughout Israel with retaliation in case of attack. What is particularly interesting is that Hezbollah’s narrative is primarily about retaliation, not its previous discussions of invading the Galilee. This response appears to seek to deescalate the situation along the northern border, and also to indicate that Hezbollah does not care about its tunnels being dismantled. This would be in line with its claims that the tunnels are actually more mundane activities, such as claiming one was actually part of a legitimate cement factory.

Overall the Lebanese narrative, whether associated with Hezbollah or the opposition parties such as Saad Hariri’s political coalition, is adamant about not wanting an escalation. For Hezbollah this is an embarrassment: its tunnels were exposed and it is left unable to respond.

But Hezbollah has also been keen on regrouping after its involvement in the war in Syria and the losses it suffered there. It enjoys the war of words with Jerusalem, in which Israel accuses Hezbollah of various nefarious activities such as housing weapons in Beirut, and Hezbollah says any action by Israel will be met with retaliation. But it may be more wary of escalating an actual conflict. This is not a calculation only for Hezbollah. Its allies in the Syrian regime and in Tehran are also keenly aware of the risks involved in escalation. Syria appears to think it is close to having an air defense umbrella with Russian support and its S-300 system. It too wants to consolidate gains in the south after having defeated the Syrian rebels there five months ago. So far Operation Northern Shield has been accomplished with quiet on the border.


This article has been adapted from its original source.

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