Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Sunday said Israel would destroy all cross-border tunnels built by terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip by the end of 2018, saying Israel now has the means to detect them.
“I believe it will even be before this, but the goal is that by the end of 2018, Hamas won’t have a single offensive tunnel,” Liberman said in an interview to Hadashot news, a day after the IDF destroyed a third tunnel in as many months.
He told the TV station that Gaza’s Hamas rulers would not go to war over Israel’s efforts to dismantle its tunnel infrastructure. “Hamas isn’t ready for war, and I don’t think it believes a war will end in a different way than we believe it will end,” he said.
Liberman also said the worsening humanitarian situation in the Strip would not improve until Hamas released two Israelis and the bodies of two IDF soldiers being held hostage by the group.
“There won’t be an improvement in the humanitarian situation until we reach an agreement on our captives,” he said. “Our principle is rehabilitation for disarmament. Without the disarmament of Gaza, we won’t allow its rehabilitation.”
Earlier on Sunday, an IDF general said the IDF, helped by the “Jewish brain,” had devised a solution that would see all of Hamas’s cross-border tunnels into Israel destroyed.
Speaking in Arabic to US-based satellite TV station Alhurra, Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai said that “the Israeli genius along and the Jewish brain have come up with a solution to all of the terrorists’ tunnels.”
“Just like there’s ‘Iron Dome’ for the air, there’s a technological umbrella of steel underground,” he said. “I want to send a message to everyone who is digging or gets too close to the tunnels: As you’ve seen in the past two months, these tunnels bring only death,” he said (Hebrew/Arabic link) according to translations of the interview.
On Sunday morning, the IDF announced it had destroyed a border-crossing Hamas attack tunnel, the third in recent months, that penetrated hundreds of meters into both Israeli and Egyptian territory from the Gaza Strip, in an airstrike on Saturday night.
During a visit to the area later in the day, Maj. Gen. Eyal Zamir vowed the IDF would continue to destroy more tunnels in the coming months, as the Defense Ministry completes the construction of a barrier around the Gaza Strip, designed to prevent underground penetration into Israeli territory.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his visit to India, also asserted that Israel was systemically working to destroy the Gaza tunnels so that Palestinian terrorist groups “won’t mess with us.”
It was the third tunnel entering Israeli territory to be destroyed by the IDF in less than three months. On October 30, the army blew up an attack tunnel that belonged to the Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist group, in the process killing 12 members of the organization, along with two Hamas operatives. On December 10, the military demolished a second tunnel, this one controlled by Hamas.
Army spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus told reporters on Sunday that the tunnel belonged to the Hamas terrorist group, which rules the Strip.
He added the the military believed the terror group saw it as a “significant asset,” due to the fact that it ran underneath the Kerem Shalom crossing, as well as below the gas and diesel pipelines into the Strip and a nearby IDF post.
Conricus’s comments marked the first time an army official has publicly acknowledged that the military has the capability to successfully strike tunnels from the air, though others have alluded to it in the past.
The army spokesperson credited the discovery and destruction of the tunnel to a combination of “cutting-edge” technology and intelligence.
Shortly after the Saturday night strike on the tunnel, the military announced it would not be opening the Kerem Shalom Crossing, which ordinarily sees hundreds of trucks transporting goods into the Gaza Strip each day and acts as a major source of humanitarian aid to the beleaguered coastal enclave, which is subject to a blockade by both Israel and Egypt.
According to IDF figures, in 2017, over half a million tons of food entered the Strip through Kerem Shalom, along with 3.3 million tons of construction equipment and 12,000 tons of agricultural equipment.
It is the second time Kerem Shalom has been closed in under a month.
Israel shut down the crossing on December 14, following multiple rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza, along with Erez Crossing, through which people enter and exit the Strip. Erez reopened a day later, and Kerem Shalom was reopened on December 17.
Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.