Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday hailed the IDF for what he called a breakthrough in tunnel detection, hours after the army announced it had located a tunnel meant for attacking Israel reaching from the southern part of the Strip into Israeli territory.
Netanyahu said Israel’s tunnel-finding system was the only one of its kind in the world, though he gave no details on the technology that led to Israeli troops uncovering the passage.
“In recent days, the State of Israel has achieved a world breakthrough in its efforts to locate tunnels,” he said. “That doesn’t exist anywhere else. We checked the entire world.”
Earlier in the day, Israeli officials revealed the army had found a concrete-lined tunnel stretching hundreds of meters from Gaza into Israel, reminiscent of dozens of tunnels destroyed by the army during a 50-day war with Hamas-led fighters in 2014 launched in part to thwart the underground passages.
Speaking to reporters in his Jerusalem office, Netanyahu warned Hamas against trying to harm Israeli citizens and vowed that Jerusalem will continue to invest heavily in mechanisms to detect tunnels dug from Gaza into Israel.
“The government is investing a fortune in thwarting the threat of tunnels. This is an ongoing effort; it does not end overnight; we are investing in it and will continue to invest steadily and firmly,” he said.
“Israel will respond forcefully to any attempt by Hamas to attack its soldiers and attack its citizens,” Netanyahu declared. “I’m sure that Hamas understands this very well.”
The tunnel was detected about a week and a half ago and has since been “neutralized,” an army spokesperson said Monday, but would not elaborate on whether it was destroyed or merely sealed off.
Its exact location is still being under wraps by the military censor, though it does not appear that the tunnel led directly into Holit or Sufa, the Israeli communities closest to the southern Gaza Strip.
Israeli residents near Gaza had complained of hearing digging under their homes in recent months, setting off searches for the tunnels, and Netanyahu and other officials said Israel was working on a secret “solution” to the issue.
Netanyahu said Monday the IDF was acting “around the clock” to ensure their security and their ability to live a life without rocket threats, another offensive weapon employed by Hamas and other Gazan terror groups in recent years.
‘IDF not pulling out of Area A’
Netanyahu drew a direct line between the tunnels in Gaza and the quashing of the possibility that Israel would withdraw its army from the West Bank.
“Why are there no tunnels in Judea and Samaria [biblical names for the West Bank], in Qalqilya and Tulkarem? It’s not because it’s difficult to dig tunnels there, but because we’re there,” he said, referring to the fact that IDF troops occasionally conduct raids even in West Bank areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority. “And that is one of our considerations when we say that in every agreement, or even without an agreement,” that Israeli troops would have to reserve full freedom of action in the West Bank.
The IDF has no interest in entering Palestinian areas with large forces, “but our principle is and will always remain to maintain the right to act according to necessity,” Netanyahu said. “Under no circumstances will we give up on our right to enter any place west of the Jordan River,” if the operational reality requires such incursions, he added.
Israel is reportedly in negotiations with the Palestinian Authority over decreasing its troop activity in Area A of the West Bank, which is under Palestinian civilian and security control under the Oslo Accords.
Security cooperation with the PA is ongoing, and in the West Bank Jerusalem in principle favors the notion of the “PA doing more and us doing less,” Netanyahu said, without elaborating.
During the briefing, the prime minister also discussed several other issues on his agenda, such as the ongoing negotiations with the United States over a memorandum of understand regulating military assistance to Israel. Netanyahu said he sincerely hoped to conclude the talks with the current administration but noted that some significant gaps were still open. “I hope we can conclude the negotiations soon,” he said, refusing to provide further details.
Regarding the IDF soldier who killed a wounded and disarmed Palestinian assailant in Hebron, who was named Monday as Elor Azaria, the prime minister said that he proposed waiting for the end of his military trial before further commenting on the matter. “The ongoing talk over this is not helpful,” he said.
Netanyahu also refused to say anything about the late right-wing minister Rehavam Ze’evi, saying that he would issue a statement on the accusations leveled against him in a recent television program. On Thursday, the investigative show “Uvda” alleged he was a rapist and had contacts with the underworld.
Though hailing what he called Israel’s expanding diplomatic ties with the international community, the prime minister acknowledged that Jerusalem was still on the receiving end of much harsh criticism, especially by international organs such as the United Nations. “It will take time for that to change, until the foreign ministries of these countries [with which Israel has intensified diplomatic contacts, such as Russia, India and so on] change their voting patterns at international organizations. I ordered our Foreign Ministry to demand this change. And it will come.”
Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.