Liberman says work on underground Gaza border barrier on schedule
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Liberman says work on underground Gaza border barrier on schedule

Visiting construction sites for subterranean obstacle, defense minister lauds IDF for maintaining calm, bringing prosperity to southern Israel

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and Brig. Gen. (res.) Eran Ofir visit a construction site where a new underground barrier is being constructed along the Gaza border in southern Israel on October 25, 2017. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and Brig. Gen. (res.) Eran Ofir visit a construction site where a new underground barrier is being constructed along the Gaza border in southern Israel on October 25, 2017. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

The construction of an underground barrier around the Gaza Strip, meant to thwart Hamas attack tunnels, is proceeding on schedule, said Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who visited the area on Wednesday.

Work on the subterranean obstacle began this summer, but has picked up pace in recent months. The army has expressed concerns that Hamas could attempt to prevent its construction by attacking the workers, but it has vowed to continue with the project regardless.

Visiting a construction site, the defense minister said the project “will significantly improve the security of the residents of southern Israel in general, and the residents of the area around Gaza in particular, as it will foil and thwart the plans of the enemy to harm us.”

The work on the 37-mile (60-kilometer) barrier, which is being built inside Israel, is expected to be completed within two years, according to the IDF. It will feature an advanced underground protection system that extends dozens of meters below the ground — the army doesn’t specify the depth — in order to detect and destroy tunnels dug to penetrate into Israeli territory, as well as an aboveground metal fence outfitted with sensors.

In this Sept. 8, 2016 file photo, heavy machinery works on a massive underground barrier that is expected to stretch along the entire 60-kilometer (40-mile) border when it is complete, on the Israeli side of the border with Gaza. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov, File)

The Defense Ministry will also bulk up the defense along the Gaza coast, putting up breakwaters and other protective measures in order to prevent infiltration into Israel from the sea, as occurred during the 2014 Gaza war.

Liberman was accompanied on his visit to the IDF’s Gaza Division by IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi; Southern Command chief Maj. Gen. Eyal Zamir; the head of the division, Brig. Gen. Yehuda Fuchs; and Brig. Gen. (res.) Eran Ofir, who is responsible for the Gaza barrier project.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, right, visits the Gaza Strip border with the head of the IDF’s Gaza Division Brig. Gen. Yehuda Fuchs, center, and Southern Command chief Maj. Gen. Eyal Zamir on October 25, 2017. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

During his visit, the defense minister noted the calm that southern Israel has experienced since the 2014 war, also known as Operation Protective Edge.

“The south is enjoying growth and prosperity because of the calm security situation,” Liberman said.

“The IDF troops deployed here are doing exemplary work, and are providing security to the residents and to the entire region. We are working so that this quiet remains,” he said.

In August, Gadi Yarkoni, head of the local Eshkol Regional Council, said the undergound barrier project is a key reason the area is now attracting young families, after the devastating 50-day war with Hamas three years ago.

Gadi Yarkoni (R) of the Eshkol Regional Council (Facebook)

“I believe building the barrier is the right thing to do, to build in order to stop and provide a solution to the issue of the tunnels, and to the issue of the communities in the area,” he said. “The surge in development in this area is unbelievable.”

The military proposed building the barrier following the war. During the fighting, Hamas made extensive use of its tunnel networks to send fighters into Israel as well as to move its terrorist operatives and munitions within the Gaza Strip.

The project is expected to cost approximately NIS 3 billion ($833 million), with each kilometer of the underground portion of the barrier costing approximately NIS 41.5 million ($11.5 million). The aboveground fence is significantly cheaper, at just NIS 1.5 million ($416,000) per kilometer.

Construction workers and engineering specialists from around the world are working on the project, at a few different sites along the border. They wear flak jackets and are guarded by IDF soldiers. Entrance to the work sites is otherwise forbidden.

Israeli construction teams work on a concrete border wall to run above and below ground along the Gaza border, September 2016. (screen capture: Ynet)

By the year’s end, over 1,000 Israeli and migrant workers will be operating on the border barrier in approximately 40 locations.

However, some experts harbor doubt that the barrier will truly be the silver bullet to the tunnel problem, as it is often touted to be.

“There is no physical barrier that cannot be overcome,” said Col. (res.) Yossi Langotzky, who previously served as adviser to the IDF chief of staff on the threat of tunnels, during a conference on the issue last year.

He told The Times of Israel at the sidelines of the conference that should Israel build a system that could detect a tunnel up to dozens of meters underground, Hamas will only furrow deeper to build their tunnels.

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