JERUSALEM (JTA) — Political and military leaders kept residents of Israel’s northern border in the dark about the presence of Hezbollah’s tunnels, telling them for years that the Lebanese terrorist organization was not digging under the border despite knowledge to the contrary.
Former Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon acknowledged the subterfuge during an interview with Army Radio on Thursday following the launch of an operation dubbed Northern Shield to destroy the tunnels.
“We did it to mislead the other side,” he said in justification, explaining that his previous comments denying the existence of the tunnels were made “in order to preserve the security of the state.”
“Even today, I will continue to calm down northern residents,” he said. “None of the tunnels reach any of the communities where people said they’d heard [digging noises underground], nor to any home.”
Israel has brought members of the foreign diplomatic corps to view the operation. The IDF has said that Hezbollah had hoped to use the tunnels to isolate the northern community of Metulla during a future conflict. Israel’s operation, which thus far has not involved any direct combat with Hezbollah forces, has enjoyed widespread support, including from Bahrain, which called the tunnels “a flagrant threat to Lebanon’s stability.”
According to Haaretz, the Israeli army detected tunnels since the Second Lebanon War in 2006 and has been planning the current operation for a year, going to far as to send a small contingent of combat engineers to Europe to practice drilling on terrain similar to that of the Upper Galilee.