IDF releases footage of Gaza tunnel discovery, destruction

Israeli military liaison to Palestinians accuses Hamas of diverting funds from Strip’s residents for use in its terrorist activities

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

The Israeli military on Thursday evening released footage of its operation to destroy what it says was a Hamas attack tunnel that penetrated 200 meters into Israeli territory from the Gaza Strip.

Earlier in the day, the Israel Defense Forces announced that it had demolished the tunnel, which originated in the city of Khan Younis in southern Gaza.

It was the 15th tunnel destroyed by Israel since October 2017, according to the IDF.

The footage showed Israeli combat engineers drilling into the tunnel from above and lowering a camera into it.

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)

According to the IDF, the tunnel was over one kilometer long, with multiple branches, electricity, and a communication system. The military estimated that it cost the Gaza-ruling Hamas some $3 million to construct the tunnel, including labor costs.

Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinian accused Hamas of diverting funds for needy Gaza citizens to its terrorist activities.

“Residents of Gaza, see the full picture: Despite your distress, the terrorist organization Hamas continues to invest massive funds in terror instead of taking care of you and developing the civilian infrastructure in the Strip. Instead of using cement, iron, and gravel to build schools, playgrounds, and hospitals, Hamas uses these materials to build death tunnels of terror,” said Maj. Gen. Kamil Abu Rokon, known formally as the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories.

In an Arabic-language Facebook video, he warned that Israel was prepared to do “whatever is necessary in order to defend the citizens of the State of Israel,” but was not interested in escalating the current situation in Gaza.

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

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

According to the IDF, Hamas appears to have used a number of techniques in the construction of the tunnel that were meant to make it more difficult to spot by Israel’s detection systems.

“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,” said IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus.

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

“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 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.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Hamas against provoking Israel.

“Today another terror tunnel was exposed,” the prime minister said while touring the US Navy’s USS Ross guided-missile destroyer at Ashdod Port. “We are systematically dismantling the tunneling capability of Hamas. They must understand that it would not be worth their while to try us.”

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)

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman vowed that Israel would continue to fight the tunnel threat.

“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.

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, 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 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 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 Hamas — 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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