230 feet down: Elite IDF unit reveals deepest Hamas tunnel ever found
Subterranean southern Gaza passage uncovered in 2020 exhibited to the press for the first time by the soldier who went inside first
An Israel Defense Forces unit specializing in underground warfare revealed the Hamas terror group’s deepest known tunnel to Israeli television in a report broadcast on Friday.
Members of the military’s Yahalom unit said the tunnel from the southern part of the Gaza Strip descends to 70 meters (230 feet) beneath the earth’s surface.
Israeli forces found the tunnel in October 2020 after Israel’s anti-tunnel barrier detected anomalous underground activity, in the first operational success for the barrier, before it was completed along the entire border with Gaza.
The soldiers said Hamas had likely worked on the tunnel for years. The anti-tunnel barrier was completed a year ago after four years of construction, meaning the two projects had apparently been going on at the same time.
The tunnel’s discovery was reported at the time, but Friday’s report was the first time the media viewed the underground passageway and heard details about its discovery and dimensions.
The Yahalom troops told Channel 12 they were dispatched to the tunnel immediately after its discovery.
“This is the deepest Hamas tunnel we have discovered, and it’s an asset to them,” a Yahalom officer said. Yahalom means “diamond” in Hebrew.
“We caught them right in the middle of their work,” the officer said. Israel detected the tunnel mere meters in front of the barrier.
The soldier who first entered the tunnel, identified only by his first initial, “Tav,” accompanied reporter Danny Kushmaro into the depths.
The pair descended into the tunnel on ropes, like they were rappelling down the face of a cliff, with headlamps attached to their helmets.
Tav said of his first entrance into the tunnel: “Of course, right before, there’s some trepidation. You think about what you’re going to see inside. But automatically, the moment you go in there, everything really comes into focus, your senses sharpen.”
The IDF discovered the tunnel while it was still under construction and halted its progress inside Israeli territory, but on the Gaza side of the security barrier. Hamas intended for the tunnel to extend farther to attack Israeli communities or military facilities.
Tav said that, when he first went inside, there were tools still on the ground, and it appeared that the workers had been surprised and fled the project. It wasn’t clear how the soldiers had first accessed the tunnel; much of the unit’s activities are classified.
“Your heart rate is high, but you’re mainly vigilant. You walk with your weapon in front of you, very alert, senses sharp. It’s another world, under the ground. It’s another dimension. There’s front and back, and there is whoever is inside with you,” Tav said.
The tunnel is made of concrete, and slightly more wide than a person’s shoulders. There are nooks on the side of the main corridor for resting, letting someone else pass or for storing equipment. The air was described as hot, dusty, dense and stifling.
It was meant to be used by elite Hamas fighters, who would have been able to remain in the tunnel for several days to prepare for an assault.
The tunnel ends in a pile of dirt, short of the border. Israeli authorities said it had not threatened communities in the area.
Terror tunnels emanating from Gaza had plagued southern Israel for years and were a central reason for the 2014 conflict between Gaza terror groups and Israeli troops, who crossed into the Strip to destroy cross-border tunnels.
During that war, called Operation Protective Edge, Israel destroyed some 30 tunnels that penetrated into Israel, and since the war, an additional 20.
The anti-tunnel barrier, a massive undertaking, is essentially a thick concrete wall going dozens of meters underground and lined with sophisticated sensors meant to pick up any digging activity. It extends inside Israeli territory along all of Israel’s 65-kilometer border with Gaza.
The Hezbollah terror group on Israel’s northern border with Lebanon has dug attack tunnels even deeper than the Hamas passage revealed on Friday.
Of the six Hezbollah cross-border tunnels unearthed by the IDF in 2019, the largest went to a depth of 80 meters (260 feet), was a kilometer (3,280 feet) long and penetrated 77 meters (250 feet) into Israeli territory.