The defense establishment is completing the operational testing of a new tunnel detection system, designed to sense when terrorists in Gaza are digging cross-border underground passages into Israel and finding existing tunnels, a senior military source said.
“We are attempting to set up a program that will cost between 1.5 to 2.5 billion shekels,” the source said. The system has passed a laboratory test, and the current trial simulates conditions “that resemble the battlefield,” the source said.
Once the green light is given, the source said, it should take around a year to set up the technology.
In recent years, the IDF, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), and other agencies have worked with Israeli defense companies to try and develop detection systems. In 2005 and 2006, two systems were shortlisted and tested, but failed their trials.
Defense firms went back to the drawing board and came back with an enhanced version, which has since passed the laboratory phase.
“We have been dealing with this for many years, and there really are very few industries that engage in this, due to a lack of ground infrastructure or financial incentive,” the source said.
“We are trying to take advantage of all of the components in the laboratory. We learned that mixing [components] can deliver solutions,” he added.
The current program has been developed over the past two years, and is the fruit of research on past, failed projects.
“In the past two years, defense industries came to us with reasonable technology,” said the source.
Should the current test prove to be a success, the army will seek to combine it with other defensive means, such as a subterranean wall located in sensitive areas near the Gaza border, to create a multi-layered response to the threat of attack tunnels.
“If this succeeds, I will propose a mixture of a physical infrastructure at a low cost, where this is possible, and in the remaining areas... a detection capability that can tell when a tunnel is being dug, or when someone is walking through tunnels,” the high ranking officer said. These should be combined with intelligence on tunnel digging activities, to collectively produce “a very good defense,” he added.
The IDF should take a proactive approach and seek to destroy tunnels as they are detected, he argued. In some areas, geological features make it difficult for sensors to work efficiently.
The IDF and Defense Ministry have told defense firms Rafael and Elbit that “there is no budget limitation,” and asked them to deliver a solution,” the source said.
If the trial period fails, Israel will be back to square one, with no technological solution to the threat of tunnels, he warned.
Results will be available in the next few months, he said.
Referring to proposals for underground obstacles to block the tunnels, the officer said ideas on how to build these are being closely examined. Possible solutions include digging a deep trench or building subterranean walls.
A number of walls were built underground three years ago, but were not found to be particularly successful. Since then, improved models have been proposed. A wall as long as the Gaza border would cost Israel NIS 20 billion to 30 billion to build.
Over the past decade, the Southern Command has examined some 700 projects for tunnel detection or blockage systems. “There is no proposal that hasn’t been looked at.
We understood that a physical obstacle is possible,” said the source.