Tun­nel vi­sion: the threat that has had Is­raelis in the dark

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - BY URIEL HEILMAN

UN­TIL THIS lat­est war, if you asked most Is­raelis about the threat from Gaza, they would prob­a­bly start talk­ing about Ha­mas rock­ets.

But that has changed over the past few days of fight­ing, for two rea­sons: One, the much-her­alded suc­cess of the Iron Dome mis­sile de­fence sys­tem has all but neu­tralised Ha­mas’s rocket threat. Two, and far more trou­bling for Is­raelis, they have wo­ken up to the true ex­tent of the sub­ter­ranean threat from Gaza — the tun­nels that snake un­der­neath the densely pop­u­lated coastal ter­ri­tory into Is­rael proper.

WHATDOTHETUNNELS LOOK LIKE?

The tun­nels are hardly crude. With years of ex­pe­ri­ence dig­ging pas­sage­ways un­der the Egypt-Gaza bor­der to smug­gle weapons, peo­ple and goods into the block­aded ter­ri­tory, Ha­mas knows how to bur­row.

The tun­nels dis­cov­ered by the IDF are re­in­forced by con­crete walls and ceil­ings. Some are 90-feet deep and ex­tend more than a mile in length, ter­mi­nat­ing in­side Is­rael not far from res­i­den­tial neigh­bour­hoods. Is­raeli troops have dis­cov­ered phone lines, elec­tric­ity wires, pul­ley sys­tems and stock­piles of ex­plo­sives and weapons in the tun­nels.

Many of the tun­nels have mul­ti­ple branches and a mul­ti­tude of exit points, which­ex­plain­swhythe­p­re­cisenum­ber the IDF says it has found keeps fluc­tu­at­ing. As of Tues­day, the num­ber was 66 ac­cess shafts as part of 23 tun­nels.

They be­gin in­side build­ings in Gaza, where it is easy to con­ceal dig­ging from out­siders. Their end-points in­side Is­rael are dif­fi­cult to de­tect be­cause the ter­mi­nus of­ten is not dug out un­til Ha­mas fight­ers are ready to pop up and per­pe­trate an at­tack — heav­ily armed, usu­ally well cam­ou­flaged and some­times dis­guised as Is­raeli sol­diers.

WHY IS THIS THREAT SO SIG­NIF­I­CANT?

Is­rael has yet to work out an ef­fec­tive way to sys­tem­at­i­cally ad­dress the threats the tun­nels present.

Ha­mas could use them to kid­nap Is­raeli sol­diers, as it did with Gi­lad Shalit in 2006, or even to kid­nap civil­ians. Is­raeli troops have found Ha­mas in­fil­tra­tors in re­cent days armed with tran­quil­lis­ers and hand­cuffs for just such op­er­a­tions, ac­cord­ing to the IDF.

For its part, Ha­mas has made clear that one of its main goals is to pull off a suc­cess­ful kid­nap­ping. An ab­ducted Is­raeli could be used to bar­gain for the re­lease of Pales­tini­ans in­car­cer­ated in Is­raeli pris­ons.

In­fil­tra­tors also could use the tun­nels to sneak be­hind en­emy lines and per­pe­trate at­tacks in­side Is­raeli cities, towns or kib­butzim.

Ha­mas also is us­ing the tun­nels to am­bush IDF sol­diers. Four Is­raeli sol­diers were killed on Mon­day morn­ing after an in­fil­tra­tion; two died Satur­day dur­ing an ear­lier in­fil­tra­tion.

There have been at least five tun­nel in­fil­tra­tion at­tacks.

HOWCANISRAELCOMBATTHE TUN­NEL THREAT?

There is no tech­no­log­i­cal fix to the tun­nel prob­lem. In­stead, Is­rael’s pri­mary method for com­bat­ing the tun- nels is de­cid­edly low-tech.

Is­raeli ground troops are look­ing for tun­nel open­ings in the build­ings they are search­ing in­side Gaza. Troops in Is­rael are on the look­out for new in­fil­tra­tion at­tempts..

WHATDOTHETUNNELS MEANFORTHEDURATION OFTHEWAR?

Be­fore Is­rael launched its ground in­va­sion on July 17, the Is­raeli govern­ment seemed re­luc­tant to send troops into Gaza. Is­rael quickly agreed to a cease­fire of­fer a week into the con­flict (Ha­mas ig­nored it) and gave Ha­mas at least two other chances to change its mind.

But now that Is­rael has awak­ened to the true ex­tent of the tun­nel threat and Is­raeli troops are al­ready fight­ing and dy­ing in Gaza, Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu seems de­ter­mined to have the IDF de­stroy as many as it can.

“The op­er­a­tion will be ex­panded un­til the goal is achieved: restor­ing quiet to the ci­ti­zens of Is­rael for a long pe­riod,” Ne­tanyahu said on Mon­day.

If the war ends be­fore the tun­nel threat can be ad­dressed ad­e­quately, the IDF’s job in Gaza will have been left un­fin­ished. Though Is­raelis are ag­o­nis­ing over the death toll on their side, they do not want those sol­diers to have died in vain. This is seen in­side Is­rael as a war of ne­ces­sity, not of choice.

HOW ARE OR­DI­NARY IS­RAELIS RE­ACT­ING?

The mini-wars with Ha­mas in 2009 and 2012 were fought on Gaza’s turf, not in­side Is­rael. Both the Gaza con­flicts and the Le­banon war in­volved deadly rocket fire into Is­rael, but there were no pitched bat­tles on Is­raeli streets.

But now the ex­is­tence of tun­nels through which ter­ror­ists can in­fil­trate threat­ens to bring the war into Is­rael — a fright­en­ing thought for Is­raelis.

The coun­try still re­mem­bers the Maalot mas­sacre of 1974, when Pales­tinian ter­ror­ists slipped across the Le­banese bor­der and took more than 100 chil­dren hostage at a school in north­ern Is­rael. Twenty-five Is­raelis were killed in the in­ci­dent, which ended when Is­raeli troops stormed the school build­ing.

This war has turned into a night­mare for many Is­raelis, par­tic­u­larly those bury­ing loved ones. But there’s a rea­son IDF troops are still in Gaza: They’re work­ing to avert some­thing worse. This ar­ti­cle was orig­i­nally writ­ten for JTA.org

GRAPHIC: SYLWIA SZYSZKA

PHOTO: FLASH 90

Ha­mas fight­ers now ex­posed

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