Report: IDF has begun pumping seawater into Hamas tunnels in Gaza

Wall Street Journal says tactic still at early stage and being evaluated; IDF chief has said it’s ‘a good idea,’ but environmentalists and some US officials have voiced concern

A Hamas tunnel discovered by IDF troops in northern Gaza's Salatin, close to Jabaliya, December 7, 2023. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)
A Hamas tunnel discovered by IDF troops in northern Gaza's Salatin, close to Jabaliya, December 7, 2023. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)

The IDF has started pumping seawater into Hamas’s underground tunnel system in Gaza, a move aimed at destroying the Palestinian terror group’s subterranean network of passages and hideaways and driving its operatives above ground, a report said Tuesday.

The development was reported by The Wall Street Journal, which earlier this month reported that the tactic was under “consideration” and that the Israel Defense Forces had set up five large water pumps near the Shati refugee camp in Gaza City, capable of flooding the tunnels within weeks by pumping thousands of cubic meters of water per hour into them.

On Tuesday, citing US officials briefed on the Israeli military’s operations, the American outlet reported that the operation was at an early stage and that the utility of the tactic was still being considered.

It said the method is one out of a few others weighed to tackle the tunnels, including airstrikes, use of liquid explosives, and dispatching dogs, drones and robots into the network.

IDF chief Herzi Halevi said last week that flooding the tunnels is “a good idea, but I won’t comment on its specifics.”

The military has refused to comment on details of its operations to destroy the tunnel infrastructure.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi speaks to the press from southern Israel, December 5, 2023. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)

US President Joe Biden was asked Tuesday about the report.

“With regard to the flooding of the tunnels… There (are) assertions being made that there [are] no hostages in any of these tunnels, but I don’t know that for a fact,” Biden said in response to a question on the matter during a press conference at the White House with Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky.

“I do know that, though, every civilian death is an absolute tragedy, and Israel has stated its intent to match its words with actions,” the American president added.

Israel has vowed to topple Hamas after the October 7 massacres, in which some 3,000 Palestinian terrorists stormed across the border from Gaza and slaughtered some 1,200 people, mostly civilians massacred amid brutal atrocities, and took around 240 hostages.

Environmental experts have warned that the move could have long-lasting effects on the groundwater in the Strip.

According to WSJ’s earlier report, opinions within the Biden administration on the flooding tactic have been mixed, with some officials expressing concern while others said they back Israel’s efforts to destroy the tunnels and that there isn’t necessarily any American opposition.

Among the concerns cited by the newspaper were potential damage to Gaza’s aquifer and soil, if seawater and hazardous substances in the tunnels seep into them, as well as the possible impact on the foundations of buildings.

In 2015, the Egyptian military flooded several smuggling tunnels beneath the Gaza Strip’s southern border.

Explosions spread along the underground complex as the IDF blows up a tunnel network in Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza, in footage released on November 19, 2023. (Kan TV screenshot, used in accordance with clause 27a of the copyright law)

Last week, the IDF announced that soldiers had discovered more than 800 tunnel shafts in the Strip since the beginning of the ground offensive targeting Hamas that began in late October, some 500 of which had already been destroyed.

Emanuel Fabian and Sue Surkes contributed to this report.

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