The Israel Defense Forces has flooded several Hamas tunnels in Gaza with seawater, the military announced on Tuesday, hailing it as a significant breakthrough.
The IDF, in cooperation with Israel’s Defense Ministry, has developed “new capabilities during the war, with the aim of neutralizing underground terrorist infrastructure, including by channeling large volumes of water into them,” the statement said.
The latter method is only utilized “in locations where it is suitable,” according to the IDF, alleviating concerns raised by the Biden administration and some environmental experts that flooding the tunnels could negatively affect the groundwater quality in the area.
Egypt has previously attempted to flood tunnels operated by Palestinian smugglers with water from the Mediterranean Sea, sparking protests from farmers near the border over damage to their crops.
“The IDF takes into consideration the soil and water systems in the area, matching the method of operation to each specific case,” the military noted on Tuesday.
In early December, The Wall Street Journal, citing U.S. officials briefed on the matter, first reported that the Israeli army had launched a pilot to destroy Hamas’s extensive tunnel network using seawater.
“Any means which give us an advantage over the enemy, [that] deprives it of this asset, is a means that we are evaluating using. This is a good idea, but I won’t comment on its specifics,” IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi stated at the time.
On Sunday, The Wall Street Journal—again citing U.S. officials—claimed that the operation, dubbed “Sea of Atlantis,” wasn’t yielding the results the IDF had expected.
Flooding is just one way to neutralize Hamas’s underground terror capabilities; other methods include “aerial attacks, underground maneuvers, and special operations with technological means,” according to the report.
Earlier this month, The New York Times reported that Hamas’s tunnel network was even more extensive than previously thought, with new assessments indicating it has upwards of 5,700 entry shafts.
In the wake of intensive counterterror combat operations in the southern Hamas stronghold of Khan Yunis during recent weeks, Israel now believes the Islamist group built between 350 and 450 miles of subterranean terror infrastructure, up from a previous estimate of 250 miles.
The IDF has damaged or rendered inoperable some 20% to 40% of Hamas‘s tunnel infrastructure in Gaza, according to a Wall Street Journal report published on Sunday, citing Israeli and U.S. officials.