Eighteen months after the last Israel-Hamas war, the Islamist terror group is believed to have rebuilt much of its cross-border tunnel infrastructure, with almost as many terror tunnels reaching under the Gaza border into Israel as before the summer 2014 conflict, Haaretz reported on Tuesday.
“Hamas is investing considerable effort and immense amounts of money in the tunnel project,” the report said. “The reasonable assessment is that the number of tunnels that extend beneath the border (into Israel) is now close to the number prior to (2014’s) Operation Protective Edge.”
The Israel Defense Forces said it destroyed more than 30 Hamas terror tunnels during the 50-day conflict, about one-third of which extended beneath the Gaza border into Israel, and several of which were used to stage attacks.
A senior Hamas member, Rahman al-Mubashar, was killed late last month when a tunnel in which he was working, collapsed. Al-Mabashar was one of the Hamas terrorists involved in the 2006 kidnapping of soldier Gilad Shalit, who was grabbed from his IDF base inside Israel by a terror cell that crossed in a tunnel beneath the border. Al-Mubashar died when the tunnel he was in collapsed “east of Khan Younis,” Hamas announced last month. “The only thing in the (Gaza) Strip east of Khan Younis is the border with Israel,” Tuesday’s Haaretz report noted dryly.
Israeli security officials do not believe that Hamas is currently seeking another major round of conflict with Israel in and around Gaza. But the Shin Bet and Israeli security forces have recently exposed several advanced Hamas efforts to carry out major acts of terrorism from the West Bank, including the kidnapping and killing of Israelis. In May 2014, the killing and kidnapping of three Israeli teens in the West Bank set in progress a sequence of events that led to that summer’s conflict, and the possibility of a similar sequence of events is not being discounted, the Haaretz report indicated.
Israel has said since the 2014 war that it is seeking technological solutions to the tunnel threat. However, Haaretz reported, the cost of a fence around Gaza that would include a technological defense against the terror tunnels is estimated at some NIS 2.8 billion (some $700 million), and there is no such budgetary allocation in the current defense budget, it said.
In August 2015, Hamas released a video apparently showing renewed cross-border tunnel infrastructure in the Gaza Strip as well as a range of military equipment and techniques for targeting IDF forces. That same month, the Shin Bet said that a Hamas tunnel digger nabbed in a joint Shin Bet and police operation had provided a wealth of information on the terror group’s tunnel-digging in the Strip and its strategy for a future conflict with Israel.
A month earlier, The Times of Israel reported that hundreds of workers were digging tunnels in various parts of Gaza, including under the Israeli border, inside the Strip and on the Egyptian border. Some in the Israeli defense establishment, that report said, “have a working assumption that, a year after Operation Protective Edge, it is likely that Hamas already has one or more tunnels crossing the border fence and reaching inside Israel. Hamas is putting an enormous amount of effort, personnel and money into digging with heavy engineering equipment.” However, it added, Hamas was hamstrung by a shortage of some of the materials “vital to the tunnel industry.”
In May 2015, Omer Bar-Lev, a Zionist Union MK and former commander of the IDF’s elite Sayeret Matkal unit who sits on the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, said Hamas was expanding its network of underground tunnels, including one that may reach into Israeli territory.
During the 2014 war, Hamas gunmen emerged from the tunnels on several occasions to ambush IDF forces, killing several soldiers. Two months after the war ended, an IDF spokesman said Hamas had planned to use the tunnels for a massive coordinated attack inside Israel. “They planned to send 200 terrorists armed to the teeth toward civilian populations,” Peter Lerner said in October 2014. “This was going to be a coordinated attack. The concept of operations involved 14 offensive tunnels into Israel. With at least 10 men in each tunnel, they would infiltrate and inflict mass casualties.”