Minister warns of summer conflict with Hamas
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Minister warns of summer conflict with Hamas

Yoav Galant, a former IDF general, says Israel's efforts to neutralize cross-border tunnels could put pressure on Gaza rulers

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Housing Minister Yoav Galant speaks at a signing ceremony for an agreement to build thousands of new apartments in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Ramat Beit Shemesh, outside Jerusalem, April 03, 2017. (Hadas Parush/FLASH90)
Housing Minister Yoav Galant speaks at a signing ceremony for an agreement to build thousands of new apartments in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Ramat Beit Shemesh, outside Jerusalem, April 03, 2017. (Hadas Parush/FLASH90)

Construction Minister Yoav Galant predicted Sunday that Israel was likely to be drawn into another conflict with Hamas over the summer due to its successful efforts to overcome one of the terror group’s assets — the cross-border tunnels from the Gaza Strip.

“We need to be ready for a confrontation with Hamas from [the start of] the coming summer,” Galant warned. “It is a sensitive period, and we need to be alert and to take actions to prevent it.”

Hamas used tunnels to launch deadly attacks inside Israeli territory during the most recent war in the Strip, in summer 2014.

Galant, a former head of the IDF’s Southern Command, which handles Gaza operations, said it was becoming clear that a massive barrier Israel is constructing along its border with Gaza will significantly hamper Hamas efforts to dig into Israel.

As a result, the terror group, which seized control of Gaza in 2007, will feel pressured, he assessed.

The structure is set to include a wall deep below ground as well as a fence above ground. Some parts of the roughly 60-kilometer (40-mile) border will also be flooded.

Entrance to a Hamas terror tunnel discovered by the IDF running under the Gaza border into Israel on May 5, 2016. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
Entrance to a Hamas terror tunnel discovered by the IDF running under the Gaza border into Israel on May 5, 2016. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

“When you change something that is seen as being of strategic value to the other side, you need to keep a finger on the trigger and an eye on the binoculars, ready for action,” Galant said, although he would not specify when he thought the next war would break out.

“If you want peace then prepare for war,” he added, citing an ancient Roman adage.

Galant has been known to forecast wars with Hamas. In April 2016, also in an interview with Army Radio, the minister predicted a war in Gaza that summer as well, but no such conflict occurred.

Reports of Hamas tunnels running into Israel have persisted despite ongoing Israeli efforts to eradicate the threats. In March, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman denied a report saying there were 15 such tunnels from the Gaza Strip.

At the time, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot told the Knesset’s State Control Committee that while the tunnels were a serious concern, they were not a “strategic or existential threat.”

Eisenkot was called in by the panel in order to discuss a scathing report by the State Comptroller’s Office about the 2014 Gaza war that accused the military of being insufficiently prepared to face the Hamas tunnel threat.

Eisenkot told the lawmakers that the military has thus far invested over NIS 4 billion ($1.1 billion) in shoring up Israel’s underground defenses.

He said that reprisal attacks launched by Israel in response to rocket fire from Gaza were not targeting “sand dunes and empty bunkers” but rather were actively thwarting the tunnels, admitting for the first time that the army has the technology to do so. Details of efforts to thwart the tunnels are still mostly kept secret.

Palestinians run for cover as sand and smoke rise following an Israeli airstrike on a Hamas post in the northern Gaza Strip on February 6, 2017. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)
Palestinians run for cover as sand and smoke rise following an Israeli airstrike on a Hamas post in the northern Gaza Strip on February 6, 2017. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)

Israel has fought three major rounds of conflict with Hamas since the terror group seized control of Gaza from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah in 2007.

The most recent such conflict, Operation Protective Edge, saw 50 days of fighting, including a ground offensive.

During the operation, the army found and damaged 34 Hamas tunnels, 14 of them crossing into Israel. The rest were inside Gaza, for use as bunkers and means of transportation around the Strip.

Hamas has reportedly invested considerable resources rehabilitating its network of attack tunnels over the past few years. The IDF has also sought to improve its ability to counter the threat since the 2014 conflict.

Judah Ari Gross and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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