The Israel Defense Forces and the terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip, led by Hamas and Islamic Jihad, are continuing to fight a “battle of wits” over the tunnels in Gaza. Israel has introduced a new high-tech tunnel detection system in the last year.
On Oct. 16, the IDF spokesman announced that the IDF had uncovered a new tunnel in the Khan Yunis area. It penetrated Israel for more than 200 meters—the 15th tunnel the IDF has discovered in the past year.
This tunnel was a kilometer in length, and it was connected to a network of combat tunnels inside Gaza. It was discovered several months ago, and IDF forces carried out various engineering works to ensure that it could no longer be used.
For the first time, it became clear that Hamas has learned some lessons; it tried to scupper any chances of the IDF finding the tunnel by using certain materials and new building techniques.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu referred to the discovery of the tunnel, stating: “We are systematically dismantling Hamas’ tunneling capability. They need to understand that testing us is not worthwhile.”
Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman also stated that another step has been taken to destroy one of Hamas’ important strategic weapons and that the IDF’s goal is to destroy all of the tunnels by the end of 2018.
Sources in Gaza reckon that Hamas has 30 attack tunnels and several dozen more that are defensive, located among various parts of the Gaza Strip. They are used to conceal armaments such as rockets, mortars, and anti-tank missiles, which are intended for aiding terror organizations in times of war in the defense of Gaza against any possible incursion by IDF forces.
Why is Hamas still building tunnels?
According to Hamas sources, despite a noticeable improvement in the IDF’s technological capability to locate the tunnels, and in spite of the giant, deep land barrier that Israel has built around Gaza to stop the penetration of attack tunnels, the military wing of Hamas has not finished building these tunnels and is continuing to invest millions of dollars into their construction.
This raises the question of what logic is behind all of this. Why does Hamas continue to invest so many resources into this project, as it is clear that Israel is managing to deal with it successfully and even to defeat it?
The apparent answer is connected to the fact that there are still some attack tunnels that the IDF has not yet discovered, as well as new tunnels under construction using new methods and materials, and Hamas believes the IDF will have difficulty finding them.
Hamas has not yet given up the usage of tunnels as a strategic weapon against Israel. This is expressed in an article published on the Internet site of the military wing of Hamas on Oct. 15 under the headline, “Tunnels without Borders.”
The writer, Nasser Nasser, explains how Hamas perceives the situation:
“The issue can be viewed from two angles: One is tactical and the other strategic. Indeed, there is an important tactical loss to the resistance when it loses an important part of its strategic weapon in which it has invested so much of its children’s blood and sweat. … However, the second point is that it is a strategic success for the resistance, which emphasizes the continuing action of adhering to the principle of the tunnels as a weapon in a general sense, and the tunnels as a weapon outside our borders in a specific sense.”
Hamas admits that it has lost a vital part of its strategic weapon, but it assumes that the IDF will not find all of the attack tunnels it has built.
“Israel knows the existence of one attack tunnel is sufficient for the resistance to achieve strategic supremacy in any future conflict, so what if there is more than one attack tunnel, as Israel knows and has confirmed?” the author of the article writes.
These words relate to developments during October 2018 in the Gaza Strip, when Hamas ramped up the violence at the border in an attempt to abduct Israeli soldiers and infiltrate into the Israeli communities at the edge of Gaza through the tunnels. They also intended to kidnap civilians to be used as hostages and bargaining chips to force Israel to remove the embargo on the Gaza Strip, thereby achieving the objective of the “Return March” campaign, which has limped along for the past six months without any significant achievement.
Hamas sources state that the IDF has not fulfilled its declared mission to destroy all the tunnels originating from the Gaza Strip by the end of 2018. According to Hamas, the end of the year is approaching, and there are still active tunnels in the area.
No place for indifference
The important lesson that can be derived from these statements is that there is no place for indifference despite the great technological achievements of Israel’s security forces in locating tunnels along the border of the Gaza Strip. Over the past year, the IDF may have located 15 tunnels, but it seems that there are still more intact attack tunnels that Hamas plans to use for carrying out terror attacks.
The military wing of Hamas has not yet given up on its plan to make a painful “pre-emptive strike” on Israel via the invasion tunnels. For this reason, this matter should be taken very seriously.
If Hamas manages to abduct civilians or soldiers from the Gaza border via these tunnels, taking them into the Gaza Strip, it will have carried out a strategic attack that could change the rules of the game and lead to a new war. Israel will not accept such an act of terror and would react very strongly.
To recall, Hamas used a tunnel to kidnap IDF soldier Gilad Shalit on June 25, 2006. He was held captive for more than five years, and released in exchange for 1,027 Palestinian and Israeli Arab prisoners.
Specifically at this time, therefore, while Hamas is publicly and openly discussing the possibility of kidnapping soldiers and civilians from Israeli territory to bring success to the “Return March” campaign, it is essential for Israel to increase vigilance with regard to anything connected to the tunnels penetrating the communities on the Gaza periphery and attempts to abduct soldiers carrying out their duties along the border fence.
Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israel Radio and Television, is a senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center. He served as director general and chief editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.