Security forces last week discovered and rendered unusable an underground tunnel linking Gaza and Israel, likely intended to facilitate a terror attack or kidnapping attempt inside Israel, the IDF said Sunday morning.
The tunnel, which an official said was particularly wide and about 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles) long, started in Abbasan al-Saghira, a farming village near Khan Yunis, in Gaza, and terminated inside Israel about three kilometers from Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha, in the western Negev.
It was found on October 7, military officials said.
The military said it waited a week to publicize the discovery because a search for explosives was underway. The army said an elite engineering corps was sent into the tunnel, but no explosives were found.
Abu Ubaida, a nom-de-guerre for the spokesperson of Hamas’s armed wing, wrote on Twitter in Arabic that “The will engraved in the hearts and minds of the men of resistance is much more important than the tunnels dug in the mud. The former will create thousands of the latter.”
Army spokesman Maj. Guy Inbar said the halt on all construction material to Gaza, announced Sunday, was enacted due to security considerations and was not meant as a punishing measure.
For years, Israel prevented the transfer of construction materials into Gaza because it said militants could use the materials to build crude rockets and explosives for attacks against Israel.
Eshkol Regional Council head Haim Jelin described the tunnel as “like a NY subway.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday the discovery and neutralization of the tunnel was part of “an aggressive policy against terror… [that includes] prevention, intelligence activities, preventative measures, actions in response [to attacks] and, of course, Operation Pillar of Defense,” referring to the November 2012 mini-war between Israel and Hamas.
Last Tuesday, IDF Chief Benny Gantz warned that the next war could be sparked by a “tunnel packed with explosives that reaches a kindergarten.”
Earlier reports claimed that the tunnel terminated near a kindergarten in Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha, but the military denied that.
“The tunnel was discovered in time, and disaster was averted,” Jelin, told Ynet News on Sunday.
Alon Shuster, head of the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council, which borders Gaza, called on the IDF “to continue securing towns in the area and to fund security vehicles” for patrols along the Gazan border.
Netanyahu said Sunday that 2013 so far has been “the quietest [year] in more than a decade,” but noted that “we have seen an increase in terrorist activity in recent weeks.”
This was the third tunnel discovered this year. The previous two were packed with explosives, the IDF said.
Similar tunnels have been used in the past by Gazan terrorists, most notably for an attack in 2006 in which two soldiers were killed and Cpl. Gilad Shalit was kidnapped.
Former national security adviser Giora Eiland, who investigated the Shalit kidnapping, said Gazan tunnels were no less a threat than the territory’s arsenal of homemade weapons.
“They have surprised us in the past with their capability of digging deep and fast,” he told Army Radio.
Tensions between Israel and Gaza have remained mostly calm since an informal ceasefire after Israel launched Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012 to stem rocket fire.
On November 8, 2012, just days before launching the offensive, Israeli forces discovered a massive tunnel running out of Gaza. The forces briefly entered Gaza to search for explosives, and, on their return, while repairing the border fence, an “extremely large” amount of explosives detonated on the Gaza side of the border. One soldier was very lightly injured, and an IDF jeep was damaged by the blast that reportedly launched it 20 meters.
Analysts have noted that Gaza’s Hamas rulers, feeling the squeeze from a massive Egyptian operation to destroy smuggling tunnels into the Sinai, may seek to ignite tensions with Israel.
Times of Israel staff and The Associated Press contributed to this report.