Eighteen months after its last war with Israel in Gaza, Islamist terror group Hamas has rehabilitated itself and is ready for a fresh round of hostilities, a senior defense official said Friday.
“Hamas in Gaza has recovered, and (its military wing) is ready to confront Israel again if it is asked to do so,” the Israeli official told leaders of local authorities of the Gaza border communities, according to a report on the Ynet news website.
“They have restored their tunnels, rocket firing systems, intelligence gathering operations and observation posts,” he added.
Israeli security officials do not believe that Hamas is currently seeking another major round of conflict with Israel in and around Gaza. Rather, the official said, the terror group is currently seeking to gain control of rival Salafist groups that have launched a number of attacks on Israel from the Palestinian territory in recent months
Earlier this month, Haaretz reported that Hamas is believed to currently have as many terror tunnels reaching under the Gaza border into Israel as before the summer 2014 conflict.
“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 Israeli daily reported.
The IDF 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.
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.
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.”
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.”