IDF demolishes Gaza attack tunnel that penetrated 200 meters into Israel

Military says kilometer-long tunnel dug by Hamas terror group from the city of Khan Younis in the southern Strip is the 15th destroyed by Israel since last year

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

The interior of a Hamas attack tunnel that penetrated Israeli territory and was destroyed by the Israeli military on October 11, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)
The interior of a Hamas attack tunnel that penetrated Israeli territory and was destroyed by the Israeli military on October 11, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Israel Defense Forces on Thursday destroyed a tunnel that penetrated some 200 meters into Israeli territory from the Gaza Strip, which the army said was dug by the Hamas terror group using techniques meant to make it more difficult to spot by Israel’s detection systems.

The tunnel originated in the area of Khan Younis in southern Gaza and was “part of and connected to a military tunnel network,” according to IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus.

The military said this was the 15th tunnel destroyed by Israel since October 2017.

In the past two years, the Israeli military has employed a variety of technological and intelligence means to find these underground tunnels, with which Israel fears Hamas and other terror groups could commit attacks inside Israel.

A map showing the approximate locations of 15 tunnels destroyed by Israel since October 2017. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Defense Ministry is also constructing a new above- and below-ground barrier around the Gaza Strip in order to combat these tunnels. It is due to be completed next year.

Conricus would not elaborate on the techniques Hamas employed in the construction of the tunnel to try to avoid detection by the IDF.

The interior of a Hamas attack tunnel that penetrated Israeli territory and was destroyed by the Israeli military on October 11, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

“This specific tunnel, in the way it was built, indicates that Hamas is trying to challenge our counter-tunnel efforts. They are changing the way they excavate in order to make it more difficult for us to detect them,” Conricus said.

“But we have different technological developments that allow us to bridge that gap as well,” he said.

According to Conricus, the tunnel that was destroyed Thursday was not “immediately adjacent to any Israeli communities,” but was nevertheless deemed a threat to Israel.

He said the military had been monitoring it for several months before the decision was made to destroy it Thursday morning.

The spokesperson said the tunnel was a “complex” one with “multiple branches.”

“This tunnel had electricity, as well as communication hardware, and seemed to be of high quality,” he said.

The interior of a Hamas attack tunnel that penetrated Israeli territory and was destroyed by the Israeli military on October 11, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

The IDF accused Hamas of investing in its network of attack and defensive tunnels “at the expense of Gaza Strip residents’ welfare, which proves [Hamas’s] abuse of Gaza’s population for terrorist purposes.”

The military said it estimated that the tunnel represented “$3 million worth of cement, electrical equipment, and hours of labor.”

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman vowed that Israel would continue to fight the threat of Hamas tunnels.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman meets with senior IDF officers during an exercise simulating warfare in the Gaza Strip on July 17, 2018. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

“The terror tunnel we destroyed this morning is another tunnel that Hamas will not have in the next war. Every day we get closer to destroying the weapon of tunnels,” he said.

Earlier on Thursday, the Israeli military closed off several roads immediately adjacent to the Gaza Strip as it destroyed the tunnel.

Also on Thursday, the Iron Dome air defense system was triggered accidentally, unnecessarily setting off rocket sirens throughout southern Israel, the army said, stressing that no rockets had been fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip.

“An interceptor missile was fired from the Iron Dome system as a result of an incorrect identification,” the army said. “There were no launches from the Gaza Strip toward Israeli territory.”

The military did not say what the Iron Dome had incorrectly identified.

The sirens sounded at 10:07 a.m. in the Sha’ar Hanegev and Sdot Negev regions of southern Israel, northeast of Gaza, sending thousands of residents rushing to bomb shelters.

The military said it was still investigating what triggered the false alarm, which required multiple systems to malfunction at the same time. It appeared to be connected to over-sensitivity of the air defense systems during the heightened period of tension.

In March, the military fired 20 interceptor missiles, worth approximately $1 million in total, after the system misidentified automatic gunfire from the Gaza Strip — part of a training exercise by the Hamas terror group — as a large-scale rocket attack.

Tensions between Israel and the Hamas-run Gaza Strip have increased dramatically in recent weeks, as negotiations between the two sides and separate talks between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority have deteriorated.

As the talks have stalled, Hamas has increased the pace of rioting and demonstrations against Israel to daily events, in an apparent effort to ramp up the pressure on the Israeli government, and created new units tasked with sustaining tensions along the border fence, including during nighttime and early morning hours.

At least 140 Palestinians have been killed during the protests since late March, according to AP figures. Hamas has acknowledged that dozens of the fatalities were its members.

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