From a guerrilla warfare perspective, the smooth sandy plateau near the Gaza border, shorn of vegetation and buildings and devoid of topographic undulations, is a nightmare. There are few places to hide; nearly everything can be seen from above. Hence the tunnels. And the one the IDF unveiled on Sunday — 5,500 feet long and 60 feet deep — was indicative of both the scope of Hamas’s subterranean warfare operations and the undimmed devotion of its forces to armed resistance against Israel.
The commander of the IDF’s Gaza Division, Brig. Gen. Miki Edelstein, stood on Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha’s fields, where potatoes were soon to be planted, and pointed to the gaping mouth of the tunnel. “To build such a tunnel it takes more than months,” he said. “Basically it might be more than a year.”
Beside him, under the shade of a tent assembled for reporters, was photographic evidence: an aerial photo of the Gaza home from which the digging began; a table full of tools and other artifacts left behind; and a picture of loaves of white bread, which bore the production date of June 2013 (and the rather dubious expiration date of June 2014).
Edelstein revealed that the IDF had spotted the tunnel from the very beginning of its creation and that through a process requiring “the sort of determination I wish I could detail,” had charted its path and exposed it.
Calling the terrorists’ plans “ingenious,” Edelstein said that Hamas had used 500 tons of Israeli-supplied cement to build the tunnel, that there were others like it, and that their construction, crossing into Israeli territory, constituted “an extreme violation of the ceasefire,” which, he contended, Hamas had requested after Operation Pillar of Defense in November.
Shortly afterward, he led a group of reporters down a sandy slope and into the darkness of the tunnel. The structure, supported by 25,000 U-shaped concrete pieces, plunged deep on the Israeli side of the border, apparently to avoid detection. Black electrical wires ran along the southern wall, as did a communications cable. An army officer holding a post alongside the tunnel said that the majority of the work was done with a hand-held electric jackhammer.
The tunnel was over five feet high and wider than a man’s shoulders. The officer suggested that a sort of vehicle might be inserted into the tunnel to whisk a captive back to the tunnel’s starting point in Abassan al-Sughiya. In the evocative darkness, it was easy to feel the painstaking labor of building such a tunnel, clearing earth day after day, and the anticipated jubilant sprint of Hamas operatives with the ultimate prize in hand: an Israeli body.
After several hundred meters, reporters encountered two combat soldiers from an elite engineering unit, pointing their rifles and their flashlights west. This was the end of the road. Gaza lay beyond.
To the left was a second branch of the tunnel. The officer stationed outside explained that the diggers had left the tunnels covered and that on the day of an attack they would have dug stealthily through the final yards of earth, likely by hand.
The Y-shaped termini of the tunnel, directly beneath an IDF position and in the kibbutz fields, suggested a complex, two-stage attack — just the sort of action that Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz described last week when depicting the beginning of Israel’s next war.