Tue. 9:07 a.m.: Israel launches operation to thwart Hezbollah border tunnels

Israeli military digger works today on the border with Lebanon in the northern Israeli town of Metula. The Israeli military launched an operation today to "expose and thwart" tunnels built by the Hezbollah militant group it says stretch from Lebanon into northern Israel. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

METULA, Israel (AP) — The Israeli military launched an operation today to “expose and thwart” tunnels it says were built by the Hezbollah militant group that stretch from Lebanon into northern Israel.

The military said the tunnels were not currently being used by militants and that its work to find and neutralize them was taking place inside Israeli territory. However, the Israeli operation could send tensions soaring between Israel and its Iranian-backed foe, which have both been preoccupied with other conflicts since their last conflagration more than a decade ago.

“We see Hezbollah’s activities as a flagrant and blatant violation of Israeli sovereignty” and U.N. resolutions, said Lt. Col Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman. “This activity is another example of the negative effects of Iranian entrenchment in the region.”

The military did not disclose how many tunnels snake into Israeli territory from Lebanon, nor reveal details of the operation that could last for weeks, it said. Troops were reinforced along the border and later today, the military announced the first tunnel had been uncovered and would be demolished.

Conricus said the tunnel, outfitted with electricity, a ventilation pipe and a communication cable, was about 220 yards long, at a depth of 80 feet and was about 6 feet high.

The tunnel’s exit point was found in a patch of farmland southwest of the pastoral Israeli border town of Metula, the military said.

Lebanese troops and military intelligence agents, along with U.N. peacekeepers deployed in southern Lebanon, were observing the border today, a Lebanese military official told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

Israel has spent years attempting to tackle a network of tunnels from the Gaza Strip into Israel and has used several methods to destroy tunnels and prevent them from being rebuilt, from using earthmovers and other large machinery to building a massive wall along its northern border. The barrier, Israel says, is needed to protect civilians from Hezbollah attacks. While the construction has prompted complaints from the Lebanese army, Hezbollah has not responded — an indication it could remain restrained amid the new operation.