It is quiet most nights in this small, hilltop community in northern Israel on the border with Lebanon, and these days quite tense. So when residents began reporting strange sounds coming from underground recently, military engineers came running.
On Thursday, they drilled deep into the ground by the perimeter fence of this village, checking for tunnels that the jittery residents suspect Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group, was digging under their homes.
It was the second day of the army’s drilling operation, which took on greater urgency after an attack on Wednesday by Hezbollah that killed two Israeli soldiers and wounded seven others when antitank missiles hit the unarmored, unmarked vehicle in which they were riding about a mile from the Lebanese border.
Funerals were held on Thursday for the soldiers. Maj. Yochai Kalangel, 25 — promoted posthumously from captain — was buried at the military cemetery on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem. Staff Sgt. Dor Chaim Nini, 20, was buried in Shtulim, a small community in south-central Israel.
Israeli soldiers at the funeral held for Maj. Yochai Kalangel, one of two soldiers killed by Hezbollah. Credit Abir Sultan/European Pressphoto Agency
That attack came in retaliation to a Jan. 18 strike by Israel on a convoy in Syrian territory that killed six Hezbollah fighters and an Iranian general. The events led to the most severe flare-up between Israel and Hezbollah since they fought a monthlong war in 2006.
By Thursday evening, the military engineers still had not found evidence of tunnels in this rural Galilee village, and the tensions along the border seemed to be fading. Israel’s defense minister, Moshe Yaalon, and Prime Minister Tammam Salam of Lebanon said they had received messages through United Nations channels indicating that neither side was planning further action.
Yet for the residents of this community, located 100 yards from the border fence, fears about the next round of fighting are palpable. The idea of armed Hezbollah fighters popping out of tunnels is no fantasy: Israel uncovered more than a dozen tunnels built by Hamas and running into its territory from the Gaza Strip during the war there last summer.
“They are preparing for the next war,” Yossi Adoni, 47, the chairman of the Zarit residents’ committee, said of Hezbollah as he watched the army engineers at work amid the deafening din of a drill.
Mr. Adoni said he had seen an unusual amount of movement of construction equipment on the other side of the border in recent years, and houses going up. “Unfortunately we don’t think they are for residential purposes,” he said. “They camouflage their intelligence activities and lookout points. They are watching us.”
Zarit, established in 1967, is now home to 73 families, about 230 people. The main money earners here are egg-laying chicken coops. Other residents tend apple and peach orchards, raise mushrooms or run inns for weekend visitors.
While the area is tranquil on the surface, the majestic, wooded hills bristle with antennas, and military vehicles ply the roads leading to the village. Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader, repeated a threat in a recent television interview to invade the Galilee, and this week soldiers took up positions inside the community to bolster the residents’ sense of security.
The cross-border raid by Hezbollah that precipitated the 2006 war took place nearby. At the time, Hezbollah fired an antitank missile at an Israeli border patrol. Three soldiers were killed and two were seized and taken back to Lebanon. Five more Israeli soldiers were killed as they gave chase.
The war left more than 1,000 Lebanese and roughly 160 Israelis dead. The remains of the captured soldiers were returned to Israel in a prisoner exchange in 2008, ending that chapter. Israeli officials concluded that both soldiers had been badly wounded in the initial ambush and had probably died soon after.
Residents of Zarit recall that rockets fired from Lebanon hit the chicken coops. But years of conflict have left many of them inured to the latest tensions.
“We’ve been living like this for 45 years,” said Laslo Schweiger, 70, as he clipped a hedge in his garden. “There is nothing new. If there is anything down there, the army will find it.”
Mr. Schweiger said he had not heard any strange noises in the night. The daytime sounds in his garden came from the wind chimes on his porch, hens clucking in a nearby coop and the whine of an Israeli drone high above.
Mr. Adoni, the village chairman, said residents started complaining about the nighttime noises in 2008 and that he had received dozens of reports from people claiming to have heard an incessant knocking. The reports were passed on to the military, he said, but dissatisfied with the army’s response, the local authorities recently brought in private companies to check for underground activity.
After the companies traced the route of a suspected tunnel beneath the village, Mr. Adoni said, the army agreed to come in and help confirm its existence.
For Ilanit Adoni, Yossi’s wife, it began when their teenage son woke her up at 3 a.m. a few months ago, saying he had heard knocking. The next night, at around the same time, Mrs. Adoni, 41, also heard it. “It sounded like it was coming from inside the wall,” she said. “When evening comes I have a very uneasy feeling, like something is about to happen.”
Maurice Vanono, 74, said he had heard what sounds like an excavator or a tractor working at night for months. “Since the complaints were publicized the noises went down a bit,” he said, sitting at the kitchen table in his home
“I don’t know, it could be my imagination,” he added. “But my wife also hears it.”
Shula Asayag, another veteran of the community whose family rents villas to tourists, went onto a popular Israeli television show to share her stories of pictures falling and ornaments crashing down from shelves. She once asked her daughter to check the news reports to see if there had been an earthquake, because she said she felt her whole house shake.
Mrs. Asayag’s family has asked her to stop giving interviews, because they said she was scaring off the tourists.
There were no bookings for the guest villas this weekend.