Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said Saturday that he is "surprised" Israel took so long to discover tunnels stretching into Israel, which UN officials say violate a cease-fire resolution that ended a devastating war between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006.
In his first public comments since Israel announced the discovery of the tunnels in November, Nasrallah told Lebanon's Al Mayadeen TV station that one of the tunnels discovered by Israel is more than 13 years old, predating UN Security Council Resolution 1701, passed after the Second Lebanon War.
The Hezbollah chief denied that he's been silent since the tunnels' discovery because of health problems, saying that Israel spread rumors to provoke him into speaking. "Our silenced had contributed to the calm" in southern Lebanon, he said.
Nasrallah further declined to comment whether he knows of more tunnels or not, adding that Israel lied when announcing the conclusion of Operation Defensive Shield, aimed at destroying tunnels traversing the Israel-Lebanon border.
- Iran's Soleimani seeks new balance of terror with Israel. For now, he failed
- Israel tells Lebanon: We won't hesitate to act against Hezbollah's precision missiles
- Israel's battle with Iran in Syria is back in high gear and far from over
He went on to tell Al Mayadeen that Netanyahu's announcement "served us in the psychological war against Israel, as it spread fear in the hearts of Israelis." He claimed the Israeli prime minister did so "because of his political distress."
Hezbollah chief also told Israelis to "tell Netanyahu he is better off with Hezbollah with precision missiles, because if they day comes when we want to attack a military base in Tel Aviv," possibly referring to the IDF headquarters in the center of the city, "we'd be able to hit it, but if there's a 50-meter or 100-meter deviation, where would it fall then? On people. It's in their (Israelis') interest that we have precision missiles."
He also said Israel and its leaders "must watch the bolstering of Syrian air defense, which has significantly improved," warning Netanyahu "not to miscalculate the level of Israeli aggression in Syria."
Despite its attacks in Syria, Nasrallah claimed, Israel has failed on the political and strategic levels, when it "said Hezbollah's power would be hurt and all Iranians would be taken out of Syria, but none of that happened."
Nasrallah further warned Netanyahu that Israel will pay a "very high" price for the attack on the tunnels, defending the group's right to protect Lebanon "using all means" and cross into the Galilee, in Israel's north, "in reaction to an Israeli attack" in a future war.
Unveiling Hezbollah's tunnels "doesn't even affect 10 percent of our plan to take over the Galilee, if we decide to go ahead with it," he said. "And even if they did destroy the tunnels, can't we rebuild them?"
We have the capabilities and the plans" to cross into Israel's north, he said, adding that any decision on such a move will be decided "by us, according to the situation on the ground and our interests."
Nasrallah said his organization is "taking into account" the possibility of an Israeli action, which may lead to escalation, ordered by Netanyahu "in order to improve his stance ... as a prime minister in a dire crisis." Any "wrong judgement" by the Israeli leadership, he warns, might lead to a war "against Syria and the Gaza Strip."
Earlier this month, the Israeli army announced the end of Operation Northern Shield, which it launched in early December, saying "the threat posed by the tunnels has been eliminated" after six tunnels crossing into Israel were found. More tunnels that do not cross into Israel were discovred, the army said.
Meanwhile, the Israeli army is proceeding with the construction of a wall along the Lebanese border, prompting Lebnon's ambassador to the United Nations, Amal Mudallali, to file a complaint with the UN Security Council. Mudallali said Israel was violating Lebanese sovereignty by continuing to build the wall, along with other structures, inside Lebanese territory and at points along the border line.