All You Wanted to Know about the Gaza ‘ Tunnels’ but Never Knew What to Ask..
I. When the Digging Started:
In August of 2005, in a gut-wrenching move of ‘disengagement’, Israel evacuated 21 of its communities in Gaza and four in the West Bank, and handed the land over to PA Fatah leadership. Soon however in 2006, Hamas, a Sunni Islamic terror organization (an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, designated by the U.S in 1997 as a terrorist organization), took control of Gaza. They won parliamentary “elections” inspired & headed by the U.S & Western leaders and defeated Fatah in violent clashes. Since 2007, Hamas has governed the Gaza Strip. Eight years ago Hamas began digging tunnels in Gaza. Was Israel aware of this ‘activity back then? The experts say YES, but what harm could tunnels do? Who could then predict the future magnitude and sophistication of this activity? After all, a signed agreement with Fatah prohibiting missile and rocket proliferation and use in the West Bank and Gaza strip, was in place, guaranteed by Western allies. Stopping the digging then was not an Israeli priority, they had far greater priorities. In fact the Gazans themselves probably didn’t yet know the incredible directions this’ tunneling’ will take. Since then Hamas has continued digging, with massive financial aid in the billions from Kuwait who is mostly Sunni and lately Iran-who is mosty Shia. Also Hamas received large sums of humanitarian aid from the West and UN, little of which was used to improve Gazan lives as intended..
II. THREE different sets of tunnels have evolved.
1. Tunnels that run through Gaza and only WITHIN GAZA –connecting and crisscrossing Gaza itself–an underground Gaza mirroring the one above. These tunnels help Hamas run the city; control the population; amass certain ‘items’. Since Operation Protective Edge began, most of Hamas leadership and elite civil servants and their families, have been safely hidden below ground, while leaving the rest of the population unprotected, to fend for themselves. This in addition to strategically placing rockets launchers amidst civilian populations, to guarantee casualties that further their cause.
2. Tunnels that go from Gaza to Egypt through the Sinai which are the most numerous. They are used for smuggling various goods; merchandise and provisions, as well as ammunition, missiles, rockets, raw materials and launchers. Having developed few Gazan industries, the tunnels have provided Hamas with essential income. Each tunnel is auctioned off to the highest bidder. These bidders build the tunnels with the massive financial aid, and then partially control them. In addition Hamas taxes these ‘tunnel owners’ on the goods they smuggle in and sell. This year Egypt has succeeded in closing off most of the tunnels at their end. This has taken away much of Hamas’ income and put them under financial strain. Some Hamas leaders have smuggled their families out of Gaza to safety through these tunnels since the present hostilities began.
3. Tunnels that reach Israeli towns on the Gaza border. Some actually go through the border reaching into the Israeli communities themselves. It is difficult to estimate their exact numbers, but so far since the ground operation began on Thursday, Israel has destroyed 15. It is estimated that another 40 exist but there may be more. They are extremely hard to detect from the air or ground. Though there are some forms of ground detection technologies today, they are limited. As yet there is none that can penetrate deep underground that can reveal these tunnels. Unlike the Egyptian tunnels, these tunnels have no opening on the Israeli side. A sophisticated system is in place where the operatives blast to create an opening during an actual mission. These tunnels are also difficult to destroy. For this reason, there were a number of instances where the IDF was caught off guard. These tunnels can be used for abduction of Israelis as was case with Gilad Shalit, or the escape of fugitives, with the first known fugitive escape in 1998. They can also be used for surprise attacks on border towns and further infiltration into Israel. During this operation in a number of instances, Hamas terrorists suddenly jumped out of tunnels from ‘nowhere’ ready for combat, surprising the Israelis. One group actually ‘appeared’ within Israel close to a Kibbutz. Had it not been for a group of Israeli soldiers who happened to be there, unaware of the existence of tunnel, a grave disaster could have occurred.
The average tunnel takes two to three years to build, with three shifts running 23 hours per day; building about ten meters per day only. They are extremely costly. They are as deep as 30 meters and miles long, requiring many tons of cement and are outfitted with a slow painstaking technology.
III. Why Have the Tunnels become a Hot Topic NOW
This June, as world leaders grappled with the latest ME crisis—that of ISIS’ (IS) savage attempt to conquer Iraq, a new ‘minor predicament’ almost broke their concentration. Three Israeli youths were kidnapped by Hamas. That this incident would precipitate events that would grab headlines, dislodge the world’s fixation of Iraq’s disintegration and overshadow this most radical of extremists group, in under three weeks, could hardly have been foreseen.
Yet here we are a month later, with Israel back in the lime light (while unhindered ISIS has gone merrily on its way to further wreak havoc & destabilize some other worthless opponent ).
No need to rehash recent events–Not Hamas’s barrage of rockets on Israeli civilians; nor the Israeli Iron Dome’s performance, saving lives; not the Israeli ‘asymmetric warfare’ in response; nor the world wide demonstrations, sporadic condemnations and occasional support.
After several failed ‘cease fire’ attempts, due to rejectionist Hamas, Israel finally took the big step of entering Gaza with its ground forces late Thursday night. Although Israel had known about the tunnels for many years, they also knew that there was much they didn’t know, since their withdrawal from Gaza. YET they were still surprised with the extent of sophistication of the tunnels. Periodically when the subject of the tunnels was raised, Israel had more urgent priories. The question now being asked is, does Lebanon have these type of tunnels? Does Syria? The experts say ‘YES’ to Lebanon and ‘probably’ to Syria. Eight months ago, Israel finally decided to make the tunnels a new priority casting Major General Sammy Turgeman the head of this new unit. Turgeman has various divisions at his disposal, Engineering Corps, R&D units, data collection and technology divisions to help solve this new challenge. Israel is blessed with top notch scientists and facilities that can be used to help develop a new technology that could detect these tunnels.
The new challenge these ‘tunnels’ now pose is quite complex yet no more challenging than Israel’s new technological achievement with Iron Dome which has saved many Israeli lives and will hopefully save many more across the globe.. Just as the success of Iron Dome has become a reality despite initial opposition, may this too repeat itself. May Israel do what it takes and may there come a day, when these new technologies will be used for peaceful purposes.