Last month, Hamas bragged about how much progress it was making digging tunnels from Gaza into Israel.
Senior Hamas official Mahmoud Zahar claimed “the tunnels reach deep into the territory occupied in 1948,” his way of referring to all of Israel as “occupied” Palestinian land.
In the 2014 Gaza war, Israel uncovered 32 tunnels, many reaching as far as Israeli kibbutzim and villages near the Gaza border. All of them posed a grave threat to Israeli security – not only to IDF soldiers, but also to Israeli civilians who are vulnerable to kidnapping or murder.
While it was reported that the IDF destroyed the tunnels discovered during the war, in fact, they were not entirely demolished, with just major parts, like entry and exit points and some elements in between, destroyed. Hamas has been busy since then both reconstructing these tunnels and building new ones.
The prospect of yet more Hamas tunnels intruding into Israel to be used in the next round of fighting is unnerving to Israelis, hence the recent stern Israeli government warnings to Hamas.
With the Iron Dome anti-missile defence system, the IDF was able during the last war to intercept almost all missiles fired from Gaza that posed a threat to civilian centres, but Israel had no such high-tech system for discovering tunnels.
And it appears, almost two years later, that it still lacks such a system. In the first week of February, Israel’s State Comptroller criticized the IDF for “gaps and failures, some severe, in the readiness for the tunnel threat.”
IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot responded to the criticism by explaining that the army was indeed working on the problem – mostly in secret – and was in possession of what he termed “advanced capabilities.”
Israel’s Channel 2 TV recently reported that, for over a decade, the IDF has invested $250 million (US) in tunnel-detection technology. Other reports have pointed to joint Israel-U.S. research projects aimed at tunnel detection.
Some analysts believe Hamas has been racing ahead with tunnel construction in order to beat these detection efforts, assuming that once completed and thus “silent,” the tunnels won’t be detectable. If, however, the underground defence system Israel is developing proves capable of sensing even completed tunnels, Hamas will have lost its advantage – foremost, its reliance on the element of surprise.
Amid heated rhetoric between Israel and Hamas, and speculation about the possibility of renewed conflict – including calls from highly respected Israeli military analysts like Amos Yadlin for a pre-emptive strike on the tunnels – western media have started to pay more attention to this story.
What has not been noted, however, is the cost borne by Gaza’s 1.8 million residents, many of whose homes were damaged or destroyed in the 2014 war – a conflict started by Hamas. These homes were supposed to have been repaired or rebuilt, ironically using cement Israel shipped into Gaza under “strict international supervision” to avoid diversion of the cement to tunnels.
As it turns out, virtually no civilian structures have been rebuilt. The owners sold their allotted cement on the “black market,” which means to Hamas for tunnel construction.
It has been calculated that Hamas used 1.5 million tons of cement for the military tunnels and bunkers in existence during the 2014 war, enough cement to have built an above-ground city for Gaza’s people.
Meanwhile, Israel receives no credit for its humanitarian measures, including daily supplies to Gaza of tons of food, medicine, fuel and other necessities. Instead, Israel’s efforts to keep rockets and other weapons out of the hands of Hamas and other terrorist organizations are typically depicted in the West as the Jewish state’s punitive, grossly unfair blockade.
Hamas was elected to look after the needs of Gaza’s civilians. Instead, Hamas callously ignores them in pursuit of its obsessive, self-destructive anti-Israel campaign.
Gaza’s economy suffers because of Hamas’ policy. Israel is blamed. It’s an old story.