The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) recently destroyed a kilometer long tunnel built by the Hamas running from the Gaza Strip under the border several hundred yards into Israel, IDF sources confirmed on Sunday. Destroying the tunnels was a primary objective of Israeli forces in the 2014 Israel–Gaza conflict.  This tunnel was detected during construction representing a breakthrough in technology.

Cross-border tunnels were used in the capture of Gilad Shalit in 2006, and multiple times during the 2014 war with Hamas. Palestinian militants routinely crossed the border through the tunnels to attack IDF soldiers. The IDF claims that it neutralized 32 tunnels, 14 of which crossed into Israel. Hamas developed a sophisticated network of military tunnels beneath many Gaza towns and cities and the Shati refugee camp.  Hamas uses the tunnels to hide its arsenal of rockets underground and conceal fighters making attack from the air problematic.

What is new about this story is that an Israeli spokesman, LTC Conricus, said that Israel had used a new set of tools to destroy the tunnel. Israeli forces detected the tunnel months ago and monitored its construction. This provided further intelligence and caused the waste of hard work and resources by Hamas terrorists. While not specified by the spokesman, military tactics dictate timing the destruction of the tunnel to destroy as many of the engineers as possible. Killing terrorists is easy, but they are easy to replace. Tunnel engineers are rare and uniquely dangerous.

The spokesman said the timing of this operation was not connected to the violence following President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.  Hamas, which controls Gaza, declined to comment.

The tunnel entrance was in the town of Khan Younis inside the Gaza Strip and ran for half a mile across the border into Israel. Destroyed before completion, the tunnel was equipped with lighting, communications equipment and ventilation. The end of the tunnel was located a kilometer from an Israeli civilian community.

Photo courtesy of DHS.

These tunnels are very similar to tunnels used by Mexican drug cartels. They are typically 80 feet below ground and half a mile long. This makes them impossible to locate using ground penetrating radar or other technology due to underground clutter masking the tunnel’s signature. They normally run from a house or business in Mexico and exit inside a building in the US.

These cross-border drug tunnels built by a drug cartel and interdicted by Homeland Security Investigations. You can see that these tunnels are well constructed with drainage pumps, lights and ventilation systems. Most have some type of rail system to facilitate movement.

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There are going to be functional similarities between any two tunnels but it’s possible that there is a deeper connection. Israel and Mexico have conducted joint operations against Hamas inside Mexico. The arrival of active Hamas operatives in the early 2000s coincided with increased Iranian force projection (Hamas is very closely connected with Iran). Shortly after the arrival of Hamas in Mexico, U.S. authorities began seeing new developments: vehicles used as bomb delivery devices, decapitations and tunnel construction.

It is possible that Hamas tunnel engineers have worked with the Mexican cartels transferring their experience. Mexican tunnels are precisely navigated and well-constructed. The engineering challenges of moving thousands of tons of dirt is staggering. Most of the cross border tunnels were dug in the clay soil of San Ysidro, California. Clay dries out to form a self-shoring structure but large areas need to be braced to prevent collapse. This requires calculation.

A typical drug tunnel has finished construction work throughout. Lights, ventilation and drainage may seem like luxuries, but they are basic requirements which must be engineered. Ignorance of the underground environment can kill the novice tunnel builder in many ways.

In a tunnel, there is complete darkness. Portable lights lack the endurance for construction and maintenance. There is no air flow in a tunnel. This means that by breathing, oxygen is depleted and not replaced. Rusting iron will bind oxygen. Gasses can also seep from the earth of the tunnel. This results in areas that will not support human life. Undetectable without instruments, these areas kill without warning. If an engineer digs a hole below the water table, it will fill with water. Constant drainage is necessary. Water degrades structural integrity, making things even more dangerous.

Hamas has publicly threatened to extend their war against Israel into the United States. Many analysts in the intelligence community believe that Hamas are conducting operations in Mexico because illegal immigration and drug trafficking networks provide the most effective way to move people and equipment into the U.S. Hamas may already have sleeper cells operating in Mexico.

This new Israeli breakthrough in tunnel detection and exploitation is great news. It is entirely possible that American intelligence is sharing information. The lack of reports of recent Mexican cross border tunnels may well be connected to this story.

 

Featured image courtesy of ICE.