Tunnel-busting system wins top Israeli defense prize

Tunnel-busting system wins top Israeli defense prize

Two other projects also win security award, one for stopping terrorists with ‘big data,’ the other is classified

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

A picture taken in January 2018 of a destroyed Palestinian Islamic Jihad tunnel, leading from Gaza into Israel, near the southern Israeli kibbutz of Kissufim. (Jack Guez/AFP/POOL)
A picture taken in January 2018 of a destroyed Palestinian Islamic Jihad tunnel, leading from Gaza into Israel, near the southern Israeli kibbutz of Kissufim. (Jack Guez/AFP/POOL)

Israel awarded its top defense prize to three high-level projects on Tuesday, including one that is classified, which were determined to have significantly contributed to the country’s security.

On Tuesday night, President Reuven Rivlin presented the three Israel Defense Prizes, alongside Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot, and director-general of the Defense Ministry Udi Adam.

The Israel Defense Prize is awarded each year by the president to individuals, units, or projects that are found to have significantly improved the security of the state.

One prize was granted to the project to locate attack tunnels from the Gaza Strip, which Israel has used to destroy at least 10 border-crossing tunnels since October 2017, the Defense Ministry said.

The system relies on a variety of sensors to locate the subterranean passages, though the exact nature of the project remains classified.

“This is a system that has no equal in the world, which has led to a turning point in the campaign to thwart the tunnel threat,” the ministry said.

Liberman lauded the program, saying it took a “strategic weapon” away from the Hamas terrorist organization, the main digger of these attack tunnels.

“The tunnel detection project is based on technology that is unique in the world, which is practically science fiction. Thanks to the minds that are sitting here… we have taken from Hamas its strategic weapon, in which it has invested most of its rearmament budget: hundreds of millions of dollars,” the defense minister said.

“Attack tunnels have become burial tunnels,” Liberman added.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman awards the Israel Defense Prize to an IDF officer at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on June 26, 2018. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

The tunnel-finding system was created by the Defense Ministry’s Administration for the Development of Weapons and Technological Infrastructure (MAFAT), the IDF’s Ground Forces, the Gaza Division, the Prime Minister’s Office, and the Rafael and Elbit defense contractors.

In its announcement, the Defense Ministry said the system was possible thanks to a number of “technological breakthroughs in a number of creative projects.”

The second award was granted to a project whose details are almost entirely classified.

The ministry said the project “gave the first solution of its kind to a central threat to the State of Israel.”

It involved both technological advancements and “extraordinary operational courage,” which has given a “significant and unique strategic contribution to the security of the state,” according to the Defense Ministry.

The third prize was granted to a technological project that was designed to identify potential terrorists using large amounts of data.

“The project dramatically influenced the security reality, mainly in thwarting hundreds of terror attacks,” the ministry said.

Liberman said the project was “no less incredible” than the tunnel detection system.

“It can be said responsibly that many citizens owe you their lives,” he told the prize recipients.

Apparently to keep aspects of these projects a secret, the Defense Ministry would not specify the recipients for each one. Instead, the ministry said that the two prizes were awarded to: Military Intelligence, the IDF Central Command’s intelligence unit, the IDF J6/C4I & Cyber Defense Directorate, MAFAT, the Prime Minister’s Office, and the Israel Aerospace Industries MLM Division, which manufacturers missiles and space vehicles.

The Israel Defense Prize has been given yearly by the president since 1958. Though the prize is sometimes given for lifetime achievement, generally the recipients are responsible for the creation of a new piece of technology or a specific operation.

Over the years, the prize has been awarded to both individuals, like Uzi Gal who received the first Israel Defense Prize in 1958 for creating the Uzi submachine gun, and entire teams, like the group responsible for the development of the TROPHY anti-missile system that protects Israeli tanks and armored personnel carriers, which won in 2014.

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