The tunnel it took two months to find

The final - and biggest - Hezbollah tunnel into the Galilee was discovered last month by Operation Northern Shield


The UN peacekeepers who sit on the Blue Line, the border fence separating Lebanon from northern Israel, heard nothing, felt nothing.

But just a few metres under where they patrol — for days, for months, for years — Hezbollah operatives were drilling, burrowing down and across, to give their troops a surprise advantage in plans to overwhelm the Galilee.

When Israel announced last December that it was launching ‘Operation Northern Shield’ to search for Hezbollah tunnels, even some of the group’s leaders were shocked, such was the secrecy of the digging campaign.

“We heard them saying to each other, ‘What are the Zionists up to now? Do we have tunnels?’” says IDF spokesman Lt Col Jonathan Conricus. “That led us to grasp how much strategic effort had gone into it being their surprise weapon.”

Within a few months the IDF had discovered six tunnels. It wasn’t easy work. Littering the border are small white pipes which indicate where boreholes were made in an attempt to locate exactly where the tunnels were.

It took two months of searching to find this final tunnel which would have ended close to the moshav of Shtula. Unveiled by the IDF just last month, it was the biggest of the tunnels and the closest to completion. More than a kilometer long, it goes 80 metres underground — the height of a 22-storey building.

It had enough electricity to provide power for the heavy-duty drills required to make the tunnel, complete with a messy fuse box, ventilation and even a telephone. A pulley rail system ensured rock and debris could be taken away. When the IDF first entered the tunnel, a soldier picked up the phone and was surprised to find it went straight through to a number. No one answered.

It is a strange experience heading into a Hezbollah tunnel for many reasons.

Clues to the people operating the machinery are all around you, from the rounded shapes carving the walls — the rock was removed using thick cylinders — to Arabic graffiti from the exhausted Hezbollah militants asking: ‘How much more can we take?’ and, ‘This is s***’.

It must have been laborious work. Experts believe progress may have been as slow as a metre a day.

Unlike the 60-odd tunnels found over the Gaza border, which were cemented over because of the sandy soil, here the walls are slick with underground clay and it is so moist that water drips onto you. The steep stairs are perfectly straight — perhaps anticipating hundreds or even thousands of troops walking on them — but are slippery in all the wetness. There is nothing to hang on to except for wet walls covered in more clay.

This tunnel started in a private house in a village called Ramiyeh in Southern Lebanon close to the border; other openings include a former warehouse and a cement factory, all now ‘neutralised’.

“These tunnels could have been used to go on a killing spree with a local community, taking over one of the villages or kidnapping people”, says Lt Col Conricus. “So we were very happy to incapacitate them before they could be used.”


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