Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday that the Lebanon-based Hezbollah militia dug a cross-border tunnel in order to occupy part of northern Israel.

Netanyahu's comments came after the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) launched earlier Tuesday an open-ended operation to locate and destroy the Hezbollah-built tunnels crossing from southern Lebanon into northern Israel.

In televised remarks alongside IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, Netanyahu said that Hezbollah dug the tunnels in order to send its fighters into Israel and "capture parts of the Galilee" in the north.

He added that the attack tunnels are part of "a regional and global terror" led by Iran, which backs Hezbollah.

IDF spokesperson Ronen Manelis said Hezbollah built the attack tunnel in the guise of a construction materials factory. The tunnel stretched for some 200 meters, with 40 meters inside Israeli territory, near the northern town of Metula.

Eisenkot said the operation, dubbed "Northern Shield," might take several weeks. He said that it aims to uncover and thwart all cross-border tunnels along the border between Lebanon and Israel.

Netanyahu said the Israeli cabinet made the decision to operate against the tunnels "weeks ago" and moved into action on Tuesday morning.

Israel and Hezbollah fought a month-long war in 2006 that ended with a ceasefire.