Terror Tunnels from Lebanon (Operation Northern Shield)

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What Happened?

Israel launched Operation Northern Shield on its northern border in an effort to eradicate massive tunnels that Hezbollah has been burrowing into Israeli territory from Lebanon. One tunnel that Israel found is 130 ft. into Israeli territory and 6 ft. tall by 6 ft. wide. The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) confirmed the existence of tunnels infiltrating Israel, calling them a “serious concern” with plans to investigate this issue together with Lebanese authorities.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu explained that the tunnels were built to “attack and murder innocent Israeli men, women and children,” calling the digging a “grave violation of Israel’s sovereignty and a gross violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701,” which was established to end the Israel-Lebanon war of 2006.

The operation has reportedly been in the works for years and is expected to span a few weeks. It does not pose an immediate danger to Northern residents.

Why Does This Matter?

1. Israel as David, Goliath or both? Israel is dealing with terror tunnels in both its north and south, but the story on each border is quite different. When zooming in on Israel and Gaza, Israel could be perceived as the “Goliath” of the two, which contributes to a popular, though somewhat unsophisticated motif of Israel as the “favorite” and Palestinians as “the underdog.”  When zooming out, however, Israel can be perceived as the “David” within a sea of predominantly hostile neighbors. In this instance, Israel is threatened by both Lebanon (Hezbollah’s headquarters) and Iran, the group’s financial backer.

2. Fostering empathy from abroad: As Jews in the Diaspora, how can we foster empathy in ourselves and our students for Jews in Israel’s north and south? How can we look past the media and politics and better understand what the people are going through? How can we humanize this for students and not politicize this moment and moments like this? See the classroom tips for more on this.

3. Israeli population’s sense of security: Israel is constantly engaged in a balancing act of keeping its borders quiet. While many Israelis felt that the IDF did not respond strongly enough to the Gaza rockets last month, this Haaretz article explains how Operation Northern Shield sheds light on that episode: “Now we can say that the tunnels in the north were among the considerations in the security cabinet meeting where the ministers decided not to launch a full-scale operation in Gaza.” Perhaps Israel did not want to escalate friction with Gaza when it was planning this northern operation, though Netanyahu’s adversaries argue the opposite. See Tzippi Livni’s opinion in the next section for more on this.

Diversity of Perspectives Within Israel

Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi pronounced his support of Operation Northern Shield on Facebook. He praised Netanyahu, the chief of staff and cabinet for “high-quality intelligence, groundbreaking technology, operational daring and uncompromising determination.”

However, opposition leader Tzippi Livni claims that Netanyahu is blowing the operation out of proportion, dramatizing it after Southern residents were unsatisfied with his handling of Gaza rocket fire a few weeks back. “Therefore,” Livni argues, “he made a defensive engineering event into a dramatic military operation.”

Politics (possibly) aside, the IDF remains firm in its impartiality to the political climate. IDF Spokesperson Jonathan Conricus said that the operation was planned well in advance and is “not something that can be done very easily and quickly.”

Discussion Questions

  1. Imagine you’re living your daily life in Metula (Israel’s northernmost town) when you discover that your country’s army is doing a military operation to protect you from terrorist tunnels that have been dug under your home. Picture the vulnerability that Israel’s northern residents are feeling right now. Present this tough question: Is living in Israel worth the price of knowing that this reality is possible? As Jews living in the diaspora, how do you feel about that?
  2. Given the rocket barrage in Israel’s south last month, and the area’s own set of tunnels infiltrating Israel, how do you imagine southern residents are reacting to this operation? Are they proud of the military reaction or frustrated this strong reaction only came after their challenges in the south?
  3. Consider the following story from author Avi Jorisch, writing about the rockets fired by Hamas in 2014:
    Around 6:30 in the evening, I pulled up to my home on a quiet, leafy street and put my son Oren to bed. Then I waited. Sure enough, the air raid siren wailed. Hamas had started blasting rockets across the border. During that first night, the militant group shot a round of M75 missiles toward Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, two large cities many once thought were beyond its reach. As I carried my son four flights downstairs to a bomb shelter, I could see he was terrified. I could only imagine how scared other children in Israel and Gaza felt.

If we focused more on the children in the Arab-Israeli wars, do you think the pursuit of peace or at least lack of war would be more likely or not?

Practical Classroom Tips

  1. Play this animated video about empathy by Dr. Brené Brown.
    • Use it as a springboard to discuss empathy: How is it different than sympathy? What is so powerful about it? Why is it hard to achieve? How can we flex our “empathy muscle”?
    • Ask students to write about a time when they wished someone had acted with more empathy toward them.
    • Ask students to write about someone they know who could use some extra empathy from them.
  2. Ask students to research and write thoughts on UN Resolution 1701, which was enacted to keep the Israel-Lebanon border quiet after the war in 2006. Use this video as a way to generate an understanding of the IDF’s view,  and ask students to research how Lebanon and/or Israel have breached this resolution.

Further Reading

  1. Gideon Levy’s provocative Haaretz piece, “What does Hezbollah Want?”
  2. Brené Brown’s full talk on vulnerability.

Noam Weissman

Dr. Noam Weissman is Senior Vice President at OpenDor Media. He leads the education vision and implementation at OpenDor Media with a special focus on the development of meaningful content and resources for students and educators. He holds a doctorate in educational psychology from USC with a focus on curriculum design.

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