The Egyptian military flooded several smuggling tunnels beneath the Gaza Strip’s southern border at Israel’s request, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said Saturday.
Speaking at an event in Beersheba, Steinitz stated that Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi had destroyed numerous tunnels built by the Islamist Hamas terrorist group, which rules the Palestinian enclave, including last October, on Israel’s behalf.
“Some Hamas tunnels were flooded, to a certain extent at our request,” Steinitz said, according to Ynet. “Flooding is a good solution in that realm.”
The energy minister added that security coordination between Israel and Egypt was “better than ever.”
Since September last year, the Egyptian military has periodically pumped sea water into the underground cross-border tunnels dug between its Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip in a campaign to stamp out terror activity along the border. Palestinian security officials told German news agency DPA recently that the operations were part of an effort to stop cross-border smuggling by Islamist militants to and from the Hamas-run Palestinian enclave.
Steinitz also said that, from Israel’s perspective, the ongoing civil war in Syria was of greater concern even than the Hamas tunnel threat, given the growing role of Iran north of the border, Army Radio reported.
Security officials said Friday that Israel was concerned that rising tensions over Hamas’s renewed efforts to tunnel under the Gaza border would cause the terror group to assume an assault by the IDF was forthcoming. Such concerns, the officials said, could possibly lead Hamas to attack Israel preemptively.
However, a senior Hamas official told The Times of Israel Thursday that Hamas does not want war and is committed to maintaining the fragile ceasefire with Israel.
Despite Hamas’s recent pronouncements that its tunnels reach into Israeli territory and it is working to launch “high-quality” terror attacks against Israelis from the West Bank, the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity: “Our stance is clear: we don’t want an escalation [of violence] and we don’t want war.”
“We have no intention at this time or in the future to begin a war, and from our perspective that option is not on the table,” the official said, urging Israel to respond with restraint to the recent Hamas rhetoric.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to hit Gaza harder than during the 2014 war with Gaza-based fighters, amid mounting public pressure over reports of increased tunnel building out of Gaza.
“In the event we are attacked from tunnels in the Gaza Strip, we will act very forcefully against Hamas, and with much more force than Operation Protective Edge,” Netanyahu told a conference of Israeli diplomats, referring to the 50-day war in the Gaza Strip in 2014.
IDF officials and southern residents have expressed concern in recent days that Hamas is rebuilding the subterranean passages, used for attacking Israel, which were destroyed during the 2014 war. Some residents have reported hearing digging sounds, but IDF checks have turned up no actual tunnels.
The last week has seen at least three separate tunnel collapses in the Gaza Strip, according to Palestinian reports, killing several diggers.
Avi Issacharoff contributed to this report.