Israel’s foes long ago realized a weakness in the country’s defense, beneath the ground, in the realm of darkness and quiet. Digging tunnels to secretly transport people and supplies, as well as to achieve penetration into hostile territory is not a new concept: It’s based on Asian fighting techniques, perfected by the Koreans, Vietnamese, and Chinese, and put to good use by Taliban fighters and Mexican drug organizations.
In the recent conflict in Gaza, the Israeli government has been struck by the complexity of Hamas tunnels and intel reports of the technology and engineering used in their construction. Forget the imagery of that poor guy digging his way out of prison with a spoon; these tunnels were created by organized, well-educated crews who know how to conceal their work from the eye in the sky.
I’ve been following closely the increasing number of reports from Gaza regarding these tunnels, and the way they’re discovered and destroyed. A few weeks ago (27.01.16) in Tuffah, Gaza, an unconfirmed report suggested that Hamas had lost contact with seven of its operatives. Hamas quickly announced the weather as the cause, and refused to release more information. Another operative was killed a few days ago, and rumors regarding more exposed tunnels—and crews—are a hot topic in the Palestinian streets.
This intel is quite interesting for a few reasons:
- It suggests that Hamas, despite Netanyahu’s direct threat of severe retaliation, has continued to employ its offensive capabilities.
- It paints a picture of a terrorist group undergoing a changing mentality and approach to fighting against Israel. Expect to see more abductions, the taking over of small settlements, and the discovery of explosives-rigged tunnels under civilian structures moving forward.
- It proves that Hamas still has a powerful network of resources and equipment at their disposal. Somehow they still get all that concrete and tools where they need it without being seen.
The IDF confirmed the presence of over 100 engineering tools in the vicinity of the Gaza-Israel border. According to Israeli officials, military and civilian engineers have already unearthed and destroyed 32 tunnels this year. Since the last conflict, the Israelis have begun developing a half-dozen technologies for detecting digs along the sandy, 65-kilometer (40 miles) long frontier with Gaza. When those countermeasures might be ready is a closely guarded secret. Hamas, for its part, may be hoping to generate as many new tunnels as possible before the system is in place.
Instead of creating typical tunnel systems only for the use of smuggling, Hamas has taken it to a whole new level by equipping them with optics, power, and communication grids, and dividing their tunnels into different designations according to their purpose:
- Logistics – These tunnels are intended for use in moving specific weaponry/resources from A to B. Such tunnels are deeper and have several compartments, power lines, and comms running throughout.
- Mobility – These shallow tunnels were built in a hasty manner to allow movement of one element from A to B. They often connect certain key terrain points to allow men to fall back or escape when pressed.
- Decoy – These are either false tunnels rigged to trap enemies within, or just a shaft that is easy to discover. These kinds of decoys are meant to buy Hamas time to work on legitimate efforts, and ensure that more Israeli resources are spent chasing and destroying such dead-ends.
- Offensive – These tunnels are much longer, deeper, and more difficult to uncover. They are well-equipped with electrical and communication devices, and stretch beyond the border onto the Israeli side, typically in the vicinity of FOBs or civilian settlements. It is already known that those tunnels are equipped with “straw cameras” concealed within its shafts to allow its operatives to see the world above them. In the recent conflict, Egoz (Golanis special forces) entered one of those tunnels and emerged on the Israeli side just in time for dinner. In 2004, a similar tunnel lined with hundreds of kilograms of TNT ripped FOB ORCHAN apart.
Both Hamas and Hezbollah are well aware that the IDF has yet to develop standard SOPs regarding tunnels or underground confined spaces. Yes, the IDF does have specific specialized units like YAHALOM, SAMOR, or SAP (EOD) that are trained to deal with tunnels on the more tactical, micro level, but there is still no solution on the strategical horizon or the more “macro” level.
Hamas terrorists infiltrated Israel several times through tunnels during Operation Protective Edge, with the aim of killing and kidnapping Israelis, as evidenced by the weapons, plastic handcuffs, and anesthetics seized from those captured.
Early in the morning of 17 July, 2015, 13 Hamas terrorists emerged from a tunnel only 1.5 km (less than a mile) away from Sufa, a kibbutz (communal settlement). They were discovered and eliminated by the IDF before they could invade the village. Two Israeli soldiers (QRF) were killed. The Hamas operatives wore IDF clothing.
On 19 July, in another attempt to harm Israeli civilians, a group of Hamas terrorists crossed beneath the border and emerged 700 meters (765 yards) from Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha. The IDF intercepted and eliminated the group.
On 20 July, a massive terror tunnel was discovered by IDF forces 170 meters inside Israel, near Kibbutz Nativ HaAsara. Residents of the village had to stay indoors and lock their doors and windows until it could be confirmed that no terrorists had used the tunnel yet. Massive counterterrorism forces were on standby, should a hostage situation take place.
On 21 July, more than 10 heavily armed terrorists infiltrated Israel through another tunnel. They were planning to split into two groups: one to attack Kibbutz Erez and the other, Kibbutz Nir-Am. The terrorists were wearing IDF uniforms to deceive civilians and Israeli security forces. Ten of the terrorists were killed by the IDF. Four IDF soldiers were also killed during combat.
Hamas has realized the efficiency and psychological effect that its tunnels can produce in the modern battle space, as it allows them to remain concealed from most technologies employed by Western militaries. It also provides them with a means of striking beyond their rocket-attack capabilities, which the IDF has successfully developed dozens of effective ways to deal with.
The things that worry me most are the following:
- Hamas is developing and paying attention to the tactical value behind the employment of their tunnels, and are gaining experience.
- They’re using these tunnels to collect information and circumvent Israeli technology.