Israel sent 11 members of the Engineering Corps for special training in Europe to excavate hard rock soil like the one on the Lebanese border a year ago, Haaretz reports. According to the outlet, people involved believed that it was routine training as the preparations for Operation Northern Shield, announced on 4 December, were kept secret.
After the Israel Defence Forces recognised the need to deal with the Hezbollah tunnels in 2015, a group of intelligence and army experts suggested a plan to later destroy the tunnels should be prepared. The Engineering Corps determined that the soil at the border with Lebanon was different from the terrain they had to deal with in the areas near the Gaza Strip.
“We realised we had to train people to excavate. We encountered such tunnels in the Second Lebanon War. We called them ‘nature reserves’, which served as underground command centers”, a senior IDF officer said, as cited by Haaretz.
According to the outlet, training in Europe let the Israeli engineers learn from the best experts in the field. The Engineering Corps members who participated in this training are involved in the work at some sites along the border, while in other areas civilians are drilling.
“We trained in the terrain we weren’t accustomed to, working in hard earth and rocky terrain and in tough areas, in order to learn about excavating”, the cited officer said.
The IDF announced on 4 December the launch of Operation Northern Shield to destroy the Hezbollah transboundary tunnels to secretly transfer its militants to Israel in any potential future conflict. The Lebanese Army also issued a statement calling Israel's accusations "mere allegations”, according to the country's state-run National News Agency (NNA).
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently visited the border and showed one such tunnel to diplomats from other countries in order to persuade them to impose sanctions on Hezbollah. He suggested that the ongoing "Northern Shield" operation could spill over into the neighbouring country, Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper reported.
Former Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon admitted that the country's officials had been hiding knowledge of the existence of Hezbollah's underground tunnels for years before the IDF announced they were launching a military operation. A handful of former military officials and opposition politicians have criticised the way in which the military's op to eliminate the Hezbollah subterranean threat was revealed to the public.