Ministry mum on reported plan for underground wall along Gaza border
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Ministry mum on reported plan for underground wall along Gaza border

Censor approves publication of claim that Israel is to construct $570m barrier, dozens of meters down, to block Hamas attack tunnels

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

An unmanned IDF ground vehicle near the southern part of the Gaza-Israel border fence (Zev Marmorstein/IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
An unmanned IDF ground vehicle near the southern part of the Gaza-Israel border fence (Zev Marmorstein/IDF Spokesperson's Unit)

The Defense Ministry refused Thursday to comment on a report that Israel is planning to build a deep underground barrier along its entire border with the Gaza Strip to block Palestinian terror groups from digging their way into the country and carrying out attacks.

The Hebrew daily newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported Thursday that security chiefs have decided to go ahead with the multi-billion shekel project for a concrete wall above and far below the entire 60 kilometers of the Israel-Gaza border.

In a terse response to The Times of Israel, the ministry said only “we are not commenting on the matter.”

The project was estimated in the report to cost NIS 2.2 billion ($570 million), far less than previous expectations that put the bill for such a scheme at a prohibitive tens of billions of shekels.

Israeli tanks stationed near the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip on May 6, 2016 as Israeli forces search for Hamas attack tunnels leading into southern Israel. (AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ)
Israeli tanks stationed near the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip on May 6, 2016, as Israeli forces search for Hamas attack tunnels leading into southern Israel. (AFP/Jack Guez)

According to the report, which Yedioth highlighted on its front page and which it said had been approved for publication by the military censor, the barrier will reach “dozens of meters” into the ground as well as rising above it.

It was not clear from the Yedioth report whether the new underground wall is the same as, or part of, a barrier announced in April by the IDF, which it said at the time was to be completed within the next two years.

Section of a tunnel discovered running from the Gaza Strip to Israel, October 13, 2013. (photo credit: Times of Israel/Mitch Ginsburg)
Section of a tunnel discovered running from the Gaza Strip to Israel, October 13, 2013. (Times of Israel/Mitch Ginsburg)

That barrier, which was first proposed following 2014’s Operation Protective Edge, was also said to be designed to include both above-ground and underground protections against infiltration from the coastal enclave and is set to include both physical barriers and improved technological detection.

The army proposed the NIS 1.5-2.5 billion ($400-670 million) program to protect the areas surrounding the coastal enclave right after the 50-day war with Hamas in 2014. Terror group Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, is avowedly committed to destroying Israel.

This February 10, 2016, file photo shows IDF soldiers keeping watch as a machine drills holes in the ground on the Israeli side of the border with the Gaza Strip as they search for tunnels used by Palestinian terrorists planning to attack Israel. (AFP PHOTO/MENAHEM KAHANA)
IDF soldiers keep watch as a machine drills holes in the ground on the Israeli side of the border with the Gaza Strip as they search for tunnels used by Palestinian terrorists planning to attack Israel, February 10, 2016. (AFP/Menahem Kahana)

On Wednesday a senior Defense Ministry official said that the next round of fighting in the Gaza Strip against Hamas was inevitable, because Hamas is gearing up for it, and that it must be the last.

“A war of attrition is not an option. The next confrontation must be the last in terms of Hamas’s regime,” the senior official, who insisted on anonymity, told Israeli reporters at a briefing, held two weeks after Avigdor Liberman took over as minister of defense. Liberman has frequently criticized the government in recent years for failing to smash Hamas, and repeatedly called for more force to be used in the course of the 2014 war, during which he was himself a member of the key security cabinet that oversaw the conflict.

Entrance to a Hamas terror tunnel discovered by the IDF running under the Gaza border into Israel on May 5, 2016. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
Entrance to a Hamas terror tunnel discovered by the IDF running under the Gaza border into Israel on May 5, 2016. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

In May and April, the IDF uncovered two “terror tunnels” that crossed into Israeli territory, the first such discoveries since the end of Operation Protective Edge in August 2014.

The tunnel found in April ran at a depth of approximately 100 feet (30-40 meters) below ground, extending dozens of meters inside Israeli territory from the Gaza Strip.

Israel has labored for over a decade to find a technological or physical answer to Hamas tunnels under the border.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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