Underground spaces in Israel aren’t limited to Hamas “terror tunnels” in the south — the country is blessed with thousands of caves. Hebrew University researchers announced they have discovered and mapped the deepest cave ever found here, adding to subterranean knowledge that may one day even help in the effort to predict earthquakes.

Located near the border with Lebanon, the 187-meter deep cave is “the most significant find in decades” for Hebrew University’s Cave Research Center, said Prof. Amos Frumkin, who heads the unit, after disclosing the discovery on Sunday.

Where there are many hills and mountains, as there are in Israel, there are also lots of caves. Israel is a spelunker’s paradise, with caves of all types — natural limestone caves, hand-carved caves — many of them thousands of years old — lava caves, and natural salt caves of a type found only in two places in the world, Israel and Iran.

While cave exploration can be fun, Frumkin’s Cave Research Center, affiliated with Hebrew University’s Department of Geography, is more interested in what caves have to say about why the world looks the way it does. Teams gather data on geomorphology and geothermics – providing vital information that could help researchers predict earthquakes – as well as information on hydrology, soil content and composition, and other data that could be useful to farmers, city planners, oil and gas explorers, and others. Many of the caves also contain archaeological treasures. Thousands of objects, from clay jugs to gold coins, have been discovered in caves.

Among the center’s important discoveries is the Ayalon Cave, a 100-meter-deep cave near Ramla in Israel’s center that runs almost 2.5 kilometers, making it the second largest limestone cave in Israel. The cave, covered by a thick layer of chalk, was impermeable to water. Until its discovery in 2006, the cave was completely sealed off, meaning that its ecosystem had been preserved for possibly millions of years. Eight until-then unknown animals – four seawater and freshwater crustaceans and four terrestrial species – were discovered in the cave, along with unique bacteria.

It’s not clear yet if the findings in the newly discovered cave will be as dramatic as those in the Ayalon Cave, but Prof. Frumkin did call it “an interesting surprise. Discoveries like this give us an idea of the depth of the natural underground system that provides our groundwater, and allows us to better understand what’s happening even further down. We have made serious progress in the study of caves and we look forward to further interesting discoveries soon,” he said.

The newfound cave was first reported by a resident of Moshav Shtula in the Upper Galilee near the Lebanese border, He passed the information on to Shalev Avni, a volunteer with the Cave Research Center. An initial examination of the cave required one of the team’s volunteers to rappel to a depth of 100 meters below ground.

There are probably many more such “surprises” yet to be discovered, Frumkin said. Just across the border in Lebanon, a cave that reaches a depth of 600 meters has been discovered. It’s likely that caves of this depth and more are contained within the borders of Israel, but have not been discovered yet, Frumkin noted.