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Builders sought for underground Gaza border wall

Defense Ministry opens project aimed at thwarting Hamas tunnels to 20 Israeli companies; vital foreign expertise may be hard to obtain due to political sensitivities

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Illustrative: Israeli forces next to the security fence on the border between Israel and southern Gaza Strip. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
Illustrative: Israeli forces next to the security fence on the border between Israel and southern Gaza Strip. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

The Defense Ministry has published the first tender for a project to build a massive barrier along the border with the Gaza Strip — both subterranean and aboveground — intended to stop terror groups from tunneling into Israel.

A closed tender was sent earlier this week to 20 Israeli companies to build the wall, the Hebrew-language Ynet news website reported on Wednesday.

The project would cover the first 10-kilometer section of the planned 60-kilometer wall.

Due to the specialist nature of the work, which involves deep drilling, the Israeli companies will need to avail themselves of foreign contractors’ expertise. But many qualified foreign companies have refused to take on the project, citing the political sensitivity of working on Israeli defense projects, the report said.

The report cited the Defense Ministry saying, however, that it was not aware of any such refusals on political grounds.

A Defense Ministry spokeswoman declined to comment on the report to AFP.

Palestinian militants from the Islamic Jihad's armed wing, the al-Quds Brigades, squat in a tunnel used for ferrying rockets and mortars back and forth in preparation for the next conflict with Israel, as they take part in military training in the south of the Gaza Strip on March 3, 2015. (AFP/Mahmud Hams)
Palestinian militants from the Islamic Jihad’s armed wing, the al-Quds Brigades, squat in a tunnel used for ferrying rockets and mortars back and forth in preparation for the next conflict with Israel, as they take part in military training in the south of the Gaza Strip on March 3, 2015. (AFP/Mahmud Hams)

A start date for the construction has been set for October and the work will be split among four companies. One of the companies expected to compete for the project is Solel Boneh, which is already working on a trial stretch of wall, several hundred meters long, in southern Israel.

The planned barrier was said set to include both aboveground and underground protections against infiltration from the coastal enclave, utilizing both physical barriers and improved technological detection.

The underground barrier, proposed following the 2014 Gaza war during which Hamas fighters infiltrated into Israel through tunnels, will reportedly cost NIS 2.2 billion ($570 million), far less than previous estimations that put it at a prohibitive tens of billions of shekels.

In May and April of this year, the IDF uncovered two tunnels that extended into Israeli territory, the first such discoveries since the end of the war in August 2014.

The tunnel found in April ran at a depth of approximately 100 feet (30-40 meters) below ground, extending dozens of meters inside Israeli territory from the Gaza Strip.

Last month, a senior Hamas official, along with several leaders of other Palestinian terror groups, vowed to strike Israel should an underground barrier be built along the Gaza border.

Israel has sought to find a technological or physical answer to the cross-border tunnels for over a decade.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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