Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told leaders of Israeli communities around the Gaza Strip Wednesday that the army was working to end the threat of attack tunnels emanating from the coastal Palestinian territory.
In a meeting held with municipal heads, the prime minister said the IDF was “likely to find an imminent solution to the problem of tunnels from Gaza,” according to Haaretz.
He told the group that the army has been employing the latest technology and that a budget has been earmarked for the job.
“The money is waiting for the border and not the other way around,” he was quoted as saying.
Israel has spent over NIS one billion (some $250 million) since 2004 in attempts to thwart tunneling under the Israel-Gaza border, an Israeli TV report said earlier this month. The money has gone toward developing technology to discover the locations of such tunnels and unspecified “operational efforts,” Channel 2 news said.
During the 2014 Israel-Hamas war, Palestinian gunmen emerged from the tunnels on several occasions to ambush IDF soldiers, killing several.
The IDF said it destroyed more than 30 Hamas tunnels during the 50-day conflict, about one-third of which extended beneath the Gaza border into Israel.
Municipal heads confirmed that Netanayhu promised at Wednesday’s meeting to prevent the spread of tunnels again.
Eshkol Regional Council head Gadi Yarkoni, who lost his legs in a mortar attack during the 2014 war, told Israel Radio Thursday morning that he had been impressed with the prime minister’s resolve.
“He spoke openly with us and to the point,” he said. “It’s clear the army is ready to deal with the problem.”
In late 2014, Egypt began setting up a buffer zone on its border with Gaza, and destroyed hundreds of tunnels it said were used for smuggling weapons and other items. Since September of last year, the Egyptian military has periodically pumped seawater into the underground cross-border tunnels dug between its Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip in a campaign to stamp out smuggling.
Past weeks have seen at least five separate tunnel collapses in the Strip, according to Palestinian reports.
Earlier this month, the head of the Israel Defense Forces hinted at hidden efforts to counter Gazan tunnels he said were built with the purpose of carrying out attacks on Israeli communities near the border.
Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot told a conference at Herzliya’s Interdisciplinary Center that the IDF has been working, mostly in secret, to counter the tunnel threat and has employed nearly 100 engineering vehicles on the border to locate and destroy the Hamas passageways into Israel.
“We are doing a lot, but many of [the things we do] are hidden from the public. We have dozens, if not a hundred, engineering vehicles on the Gaza border,” he said.
Two days earlier Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said the tunnels beneath the Gaza Strip’s southern border were flooded by Egypt at Israel’s request. His office later said the remarks were misinterpreted.
Hamas officials have pledged to continue building tunnels under the Israeli border, despite the recent collapses, and boasted that some tunnels already extend into Israel.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.