Metulla – The attack tunnel that was meant to deliver Hezbollah terrorists from Lebanon to this tiny town has just been destroyed, and residents are breathing a collective sigh of relief.
But there is anxiety in the air regarding what happens next. “I’m concerned that things could escalate into all-out war,” said local Micha Kalbin, as he walked his dog on Sunday.
Hezbollah is ramping up its threats. Its deputy secretary Naim Qassem said this week that there is “not a single point” in Israel that its missiles cannot reach.
The IDF’s new operation to uncover and eliminate tunnels running from Lebanon to Israel is intensifying. Three tunnels have now been discovered, and the military has just warned residents that if they suspect that they live on top of a tunnel, they should leave home.
Israelis have been left staggered by the IDF’s assessment of just how riddled with terror southern Lebanon has become.
It says that one in three homes hides Hezbollah infrastructure, such as an observation post or a tunnel underneath.
The village of Kafr Kila, which is just two kilometres from here as the crow flies, is particularly densely populated by Hezbollah.
Metulla’s residents say they have long suspected there are tunnels that put their community in danger. Some have said they heard digging sounds. And while the idea of terrorists emerging from underground is always scary, here it is more so.
Metulla is surrounded on three sides by Lebanon. Hezbollah could potentially tunnel into the town and, with enough manpower, isolate it from the rest of Israel.
“When you think about it you see that it could be a disaster and they could block the entrance so no one could leave or enter Metulla,” Ronit Antler, spokeswoman for the local municipality, told The AJN.
By the Gaza border, residents worry about a terrorist infiltration that could cause a deadly but short terror attack. Here, there is a concern of a far longer incident.
The operation against the tunnels seems to be succeeding. The second tunnel to be found has been booby trapped to stop Hezbollah from using it, and soldiers are deciding what to do with the third tunnel. But there are no guarantees that Israel will find every tunnel before they can be used by the enemy.
Another possibility is that even if both sides want relative calm, there could be a small unplanned clash between an IDF soldier and a Lebanese soldier or Hezbollah militant – with all now operating at close proximity to each other – and this could quickly escalate.
Despite the risk of escalation, Israel says that the current operation is essential to reduce the threat that Hezbollah poses.
“We need patience,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “But with the same perseverance we will continue the operation until its conclusion – until the tunnel threat in the north is neutralised.
“At the same time we are working in the intelligence sphere in order to denounce Hezbollah and Iran and to increase sanctions against both of them.”
Metulla seems calm, and life is running to routine. However, the “patience” that Netanyahu talks about demands that people have nerves of steel.
“Everything is running as normal, everything in its routine,” said Antler. “But we know that there’s a possibility suddenly we could need to run to shelter.”