The December 4th afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ included an item billed “Israel targets Hezbollah tunnels” which related to the IDF’s announcement concerning the commencement of Operation Northern Shield earlier in the day.
Iqbal: “Israel now and the army has launched an operation to cut off tunnels infiltrating its territory from Lebanon. The military accuses the Lebanese militia Hizballah of having dug the tunnels with a view to using them for a surprise attack inside Israel. I’ve been speaking to Anna Ahronheim who is military reporter for the Jerusalem Post newspaper. She’s on the Israel-Lebanon border in the town of Metulla.”
By the time this item was broadcast the IDF had announced the discovery of the first cross-border tunnel (which later in the day was revealed to be meters away from a UNIFIL observation post) running from inside a ‘civilian’ building in the Shia village of Kfar Kila in Lebanon some 40 meters into Israeli territory. Anna Ahronheim began by describing that tunnel.
Ahronheim: “From where I’m standing there’s about maybe 200 – 250 meters away from the tunnel they just announced that they found. The tunnel is closer to the border fence than homes in Metulla but a quick walk in the middle of the night at a brisk pace, it’ll take less than five minutes for them to reach homes. So the army said that this tunnel that was discovered has been neutralised, therefore won’t be able to be used by Hizballah forces.”
Although she failed to clarify to listeners that Hizballah is a widely designated terrorist organisation, Iqbal’s three initial questions were relevant to audience understanding of the story.
Iqbal: “And they’ve also said that they’re only operating within territory that is…ah…Israeli and will not cross the border into Lebanon and that is possible for them to do, given the geography?”
Ahronheim: “I think what the army will do is right now they are operating strictly within Israeli territory but this is not going to be an operation for just several hours or several days. The army believes it’ll take several weeks for all the tunnels to be – or most of the tunnels – to be identified and neutralised and that might mean having to cross into the blue line, into the demilitarised zone in order to deal with the threat.”
Iqbal: “So how many tunnels are we talking about if it’s going to take them several weeks?”
Ahronheim: “They haven’t given any number yet. Right now we only know of one but there’s likely many more.”
Iqbal: “And if there is any…ah…suggestion or indication that they are going into Lebanese territory, that would be extremely serious?”
Ahronheim: “Definitely but of course the army has said today that they communicate a message both to UNIFIL and to the Lebanese army about what was happening and the seriousness of it. I don’t think anyone either in Lebanon or in Israel want to go to war with each other. It’s been 12 years of quiet up on the northern border. I think they want to keep it that way. I think Hizballah also understands that they’re quite occupied in Syria and across the region. A war with Israel is just not on the plate right now.”
At that point Razia Iqbal put relevant questioning aside, instead choosing to indulge her own irrelevant speculations.
Iqbal: “Well given that a war with Israel would not be in the interests of Hizballah, one wonders about the…err…the accuracy or the factual accuracy of those tunnels being potentially used for the way in which Israel is alleging that Hizballah might use them.”
Iqbal did not enlighten listeners as to her opinions on alternative uses for a 200 meter-long tunnel quarried through solid limestone and under the international border by a terror group dedicated to Israel’s destruction.
Ahronheim: “Of course but again, Hizballah has for years – and I can go back to 2012 of Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah saying…talking about, you know, the conquest of the Galilee and that there would be surprise tunnels that would be infiltrating into Israel. So this is something that they’ve been planning for several years.”
Iqbal then went on to promote another bizarre theory:
Iqbal: “Why do you think that Israel has made the announcement of cutting off these tunnels today? Is there any sense that this is a diversionary tactic to take attention away from Benjamin Netanyahu’s shaky coalition?”
In fact this operation had been in the pipeline for years and was given final security cabinet approval on November 7th – i.e. before the coalition government’s majority in the Knesset was reduced in the wake of Avigdor Lieberman’s resignation.
Ahronheim: “There’s a lot of talk about that; the corruption charges that he faces, the shaky coalition. The army says that this has been planned for over two years; that they’ve been having meetings every two weeks – the Chief of Staff and senior officials and the cabinet. Again, the timing of it really might be tied to Netanyahu’s troubles as a diversion but it also could be that, you know, this is a message to Iran. There were reports the other day of Iran flying in directly to Beirut international airport and not via Syria [unintelligible] weapons for Hizballah. So it could be a message in return of Iran’s message to Israel.”
Iqbal closed the interview there, having devoted 40% of her questions to promotion of the notions that Israel might be lying with regard to the purpose of the tunnels and that an operation to thwart an obvious threat to Israeli civilians might have baser political motives.
BBC World Service listeners however heard nothing whatsoever about the highly relevant context of Hizballah’s violations of UNSC resolution 1701 and the impotency of the UNIFIL force charged with overseeing implementation of that resolution.