Ministers declare campaign against Gaza attack tunnels is nearing victory
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Ministers declare campaign against Gaza attack tunnels is nearing victory

After another cross-border passage destroyed by IDF, defense minister says threat will become a thing of the past within months

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)

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, responding to the IDF’s destruction of an attack tunnel leading from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory, said Sunday that new technologies were being utilized that he hoped would completely neutralize the tunnel threat within months.

His optimism was backed by other cabinet members who also predicted victory against the threat.

The military said the kilometer-long tunnel was constructed by the Hamas terrorist group. It began in the Gazan city of Khan Younis and extended “hundreds of meters” inside Israeli territory. It was the second such tunnel security forces destroyed in the last six weeks.

“Terror tunnels that cross the border into Israeli territory and damage our sovereignty are an unacceptable threat that we will invest every resource in thwarting,” Liberman said in a statement. “Thanks to a joint effort by the IDF, the Defense Ministry, and the security industry, we have attained new technological capabilities in the campaign against tunnel terror. I hope that in the coming months the threat of the tunnels to residents of the Gaza periphery will become a thing of the past.”

The tunnel was destroyed using a different method from the one destroyed in October, which was blown up with explosives. The army would not elaborate on the nature of the new technique.

A Hamas attack tunnel that entered Israeli territory, which was destroyed by the IDF on December 10, 2017. (Israel Defense Forces)

Hamas has used tunnels in the past to infiltrate Israeli territory and carry out attacks, including shootings and the kidnapping of an IDF soldier, Gilad Shalit, who was released after five years in captivity in exchange for about 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.

Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz welcomed the successful destruction of the tunnel, saying, “This action conveys a clear message that the era of the tunnel threat is nearing an end.

“The discovery and detonation of the tunnel proves once again the justice of Israel’s decision not to recognize the imaginary reconciliation government being formed these days between [Palestinian Authority President] Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas,” he added referring to the competing Palestinian factions’ efforts to patch up a longstanding feud. “While Abbas talks about peace and political agreements, Hamas is digging tunnels and preparing for war.”

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, a member of the security cabinet, also sounded confident Israel had gained the upper hand in the battle against the tunnels and was close to overcoming the threat completely.

“Within a year or two we will topple Hamas’s leading project, the terror tunnels, so now is a time to be extra alert,” Bennett said in a statement. “The destruction of the tunnel is the result of a clear policy against terror. Security forces have developed a systematic system for the location and destruction of the tunnels. It will take time, but Hamas’s tunnels will crumble.”

But he cautioned, “We must also prepare for new aerial or naval threats, since Hamas is always looking to innovate.”

Head of the Jewish Home party Education Minister Naftali Bennett leads a faction meeting at the Knesset, December 4, 2017. (Flash90)

IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus would not specify where exactly the tunnel was located in Israel, but said it ended in open farmland, approximately one kilometer (0.6 miles) from the nearest Israeli community.

“We monitored this tunnel for a long period of time,” Conricus said.

The spokesman noted that the tunnel did not pose an immediate threat to Israeli civilians and that it did not have an exit point at the time of the destruction. He said the tunnel appeared to be a “very substantial” one for Hamas, “based on the level of detail.”

On October 30, the IDF blew up an attack tunnel belonging to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group. In the blast and its aftermath, some 14 terrorists were killed, including two senior commanders and five who were digging inside Israeli territory at the time of the demolition.

In response to October’s tunnel demolition, Islamic Jihad vowed to avenge its operatives. A month later the group shelled an army post northeast of the Gaza Strip, which resulted in some equipment damage but no Israeli injuries.

In this weekend’s blast, no Palestinians were reported killed, Conricus said.

However, he warned, in the future, tunnels “can become death traps for terrorists digging them.”

The officer said the military did not see a connection between the tunnel demolition and ongoing, low-level protests in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, which Hamas is actively encouraging, against US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“We see these as separate events,” Conricus said. “There is no direct link, other than that the Hamas terrorist group is behind both of them.”

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