‘Fauda’ creator Issacharoff: ‘We cannot even imagine’ the extent of Gaza’s tunnels

Veteran reporter and TV writer, a former special forces soldier, says any postwar solution must include the PA: ‘That would be a major blow for Hamas’

Jessica Steinberg, The Times of Israel's culture and lifestyles editor, covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center

In this May 30, 2019 photo, an actor waits for his scene on the set of the third season of 'Fauda,' set in Gaza and filmed in Tel Aviv (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
In this May 30, 2019 photo, an actor waits for his scene on the set of the third season of 'Fauda,' set in Gaza and filmed in Tel Aviv (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Avi Issacharoff, the Arabic-speaking Israeli journalist who melded his work and military service in the undercover Duvdevan unit to co-create the award-winning TV show “Fauda,” says that the tunnel infrastructure in Gaza is “something that we cannot even imagine.”

“It’s very dense, it’s a huge system of tunnels that allow Hamas to transport terrorists and hostages — but also motorbikes and artillery and rockets and everything you can imagine,” said Issacharoff, speaking with members of the press Sunday about the challenges of a military operation in Gaza’s dense urban terrain.

This underground system covers almost the entire Strip, said Issacharoff, who visited Gaza many times as a journalist until 2007, when the Hamas terror group took control of the territory and ousted the Palestinian Authority in a violent coup.

Issacharoff and his “Fauda” partner, Lior Raz, set the third season of the show in Gaza, with the show’s lead character posing as a Palestinian boxing instructor to infiltrate the senior ranks of Hamas.

The season wasn’t shot in the southern enclave, as Israelis haven’t been allowed to enter the Gaza Strip since Israel unilaterally withdrew its forces from the Strip, uprooted all Israeli settlements there and evacuated all its citizens in 2005.

At the time, Issacharoff said that in dealing with Gaza, the season was addressing one of the biggest fears of the Israeli audience, “perhaps because of [kidnapped IDF soldier] Gilad Shalit’s five years’ imprisonment there, maybe because people don’t know Gaza.” He added, “We know that we’re touching something very sensitive in the hearts of the Israeli audience.”

As Hamas terrorists fled back into Gaza after carrying out the massacres of October 7, “they all went underground, under the houses of Gaza City,” said Issacharoff. “They’re hiding behind a human shield.”

Lior Raz (left) and Avi Issacharoff (right), co-creators of the hit Israeli TV show “Fauda”, pictured in Tel Aviv on January 25, 2023. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

Israelis on Tuesday are marking a month since Hamas’s brutal assault on communities in southern Israel in which some 1,400 people, mostly civilians, were massacred by armed terrorists who stormed across the border. At least 240 people, from babies to octogenarians, were abducted and remain hostage in Gaza.

In the ensuing war, when Hamas targets in Gaza’s Jabaliya neighborhood were bombed by the Israeli Air Force, entire buildings collapsed, as the ground fell in on the underground tunnels, Issacharoff said.

The veteran reporter said that one Hamas strategy is to have two or three terrorists “pop out” of a tunnel and fire an RPG at an approaching Israeli tank or armored vehicle. After firing, the gunmen head back into the tunnel and run away.

IDF troops are getting closer to Gaza City’s downtown, the central location for the Hamas regime, and Shifa Hospital, which is the city’s largest medical complex, said Issacharoff. The IDF has documented Hamas’s use of underground areas beneath Shifa as an operations headquarters. It’s also where Hamas’s fuel reserves are stored, according to information recently shared by a Gazan medical official.

“I swear, every kid in Gaza knows there’s a Hamas headquarters under Shifa, but no one talks about it,” said Issacharoff, who wrote a “Fauda” episode about Shifa back in 2018.

With civilians living above the Hamas tunnel complex, the Gaza population will pay a heavy price in this war, said Issacharoff.

Gaza health authorities, controlled by Hamas, say more than 9,700 people, including women and children, have been killed in the fighting. The figures issued by the terror group cannot be independently verified, and are believed to include its own terrorists and gunmen, killed in Israel and in Gaza, the victims of a blast at a Gaza City hospital on October 17 caused by an Islamic Jihad missile misfire that Hamas has blamed on Israel, and those killed by the hundreds of rockets fired by terror groups that have fallen short inside the Strip.

People gather around an ambulance damaged in an Israeli airstrike in front of Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City on November 3, 2023. The IDF said it struck an ambulance that was being used by a Hamas cell, and killed several Hamas operatives. (MOMEN AL-HALABI / AFP)

“This is not a surgical operation,” Issacharoff said. “It’s a war. It’s a war where the enemy has located itself inside the local population and that is the aim of Hamas, because it makes the other side look like devils, like war criminals.”

The more Gaza civilians are killed, the more pressure there will be on Israel to agree to a ceasefire, he said.

Issacharoff also said that the options for a postwar Gaza range from bad to worse, but they must involve the Palestinian Authority.

“There aren’t really any options. No one is sending troops to Gaza, neither Egypt nor Jordan,” noted Issacharoff.

In order for Israel to work with the Palestinian Authority in Gaza, that would require some kind of political progression between Israel and the PA, which hasn’t happened and probably can’t happen with the current government, he said.

“I don’t see any kind of victory going out of this mess,” said Issacharoff, who conjectured that the biggest threat for Hamas would be a peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.

“I’m not saying that it’s achievable, but that would be the Hamas death sentence,” he said. “And the biggest threat right now for Hamas is if the PA returns to Gaza. They would go crazy because they would lose everything that they invested in, they would lose legitimacy with another Palestinian force on the ground. That would be a major blow for Hamas.”

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