IDF confirms flooding Hamas tunnels in Gaza with seawater

Measure utilized as army works to destroy massive tunnel network running 350-400 miles long as part of ground operation in Gaza Strip

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

Illustrative: A pipe pumping water into a Hamas tunnel is seen near Palestine Square in Gaza City’s Rimal neighborhood, December 19, 2023. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)
Illustrative: A pipe pumping water into a Hamas tunnel is seen near Palestine Square in Gaza City’s Rimal neighborhood, December 19, 2023. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)

The Israel Defense Forces said Tuesday that it had been flooding some tunnels in the Gaza Strip with seawater, confirming what had been an open secret for several weeks.

Several IDF units and officials at the Defense Ministry jointly developed “several tools for injecting high-flow water into Hamas tunnels in the Gaza Strip,” the military said in a statement, adding that it is “part of the variety of tools the IDF has for dealing with tunnels.”

The IDF clarified that not all tunnels were being flooded, as the process, which includes attaching pipes and pumps to the shafts, was not suited to all the tunnels and could severely damage some areas.

Before it floods tunnels, the IDF carries out “professional and comprehensive” preemptive checks, including an analysis of the soil and water system in the area, to ensure groundwater is not contaminated, the army added.

Other methods for destroying Hamas’s tunnels include aerial attacks, underground maneuvers and special operations.

A trial run of the flooding method was successful in mid-December as the IDF warned of “new combat methods” to deal with terrorists hiding underground.

Israeli soldiers operate at the entrance to a tunnel in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip in an undated photo released by the military on January 30, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

At the time, IDF Spokesman Real Adm. Daniel Hagari was asked about concerns that flooding tunnels may harm hostages being held by Hamas in the tunnels. He responded by saying that the army was operating based on intelligence on the location of hostages and would not take any deliberate steps that may harm them.

Earlier this month, senior Israeli defense officials estimated to The New York Times that Hamas’s tunnel network runs 350-400 miles long, much more than previously believed. The tunnels are believed to be accessed by some 5,700 shafts.

The IDF said Hamas had used more than 6,000 tons of concrete and 1,800 tons of steel and likely invested tens of millions of dollars into the project.

Since launching a ground offensive in the wake of the October 7 massacres, in which Hamas-led terrorists killed some 1,200 people and took 253 hostages, Israeli forces have worked to destroy the tunnels, uncovering more and more of the Gaza-ruling terror organization’s underground network.

An official told the Times that IDF troops were more likely to find tunnels running below areas with schools, hospitals or mosques, and that it could potentially take years to dismantle the network.

IDF 646th Brigade commander Col. Elad Shushan (R) inspects a Hamas tunnel in the central Gaza Strip, January 14, 2024 (Lazar Berman/The Times of Israel)

A Wall Street Journal report on Sunday said that up to 80 percent of the tunnels were still intact after close to four months of fighting.

Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar and other terror commanders are thought to be hiding underground, according to Israeli officials who said that the Gaza terror chief is believed to be in a command center in a tunnel under Khan Younis, along with some of the hostages.

It is believed that 132 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza — not all of them alive — after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during the late November truce. Four hostages were released prior to that, and one was rescued by troops. The bodies of eight hostages have also been recovered and three hostages were mistakenly killed by the military.

The IDF has also confirmed the deaths of 25 of those still held by Hamas, citing intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza.

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