The IDF has destroyed Hamas’s flagship terrorism project: its network of tunnels that snuck into Israel.
Hamas spent five years preparing this strategic threat; the IDF wrecked 31 tunnels in two weeks.
By Sunday, all of the tunnels that the IDF discovered during the offensive, or knew about before the war, will be destroyed.It is assumed that there are a few tunnels that the army has yet to identify.
Many of the underground passages were designed to send heavily armed murder squads into Israeli communities and to attack army positions from the rear. They were filled with weapons, explosives and other equipment, enabling terrorists to enter a shaft in Gaza dressed in civilian clothing and emerge in Israel, disguised as IDF soldiers and equipped to inflict mass casualties.
In some of the tunnels, the army discovered motorcycles that Hamas had earmarked for speedy raids into Israel and subsequent retreats back into Gaza.
The army has gained good control of the areas of the Strip in which it is operating.
Despite very difficult fighting on the ground, which included Hamas cells using heavy rocket-propelled grenades, anti-tank missile and automatic rifle fire, and despite the painful price Israel has paid in lives lost, the army is very close to achieving this key goal of its offensive.
In the great majority of cases where the soldiers fought with Hamas, the battle has ended with terrorists killed, wounded or surrendering. No one in the army expected the fight to be easy. And no one expected every battle to end without painful losses on the Israeli side, when tens of thousands of soldiers fought with Hamas’s battalions of guerrillas.
The intelligence available to the ground forces has been superb, but it is unrealistic to expect 100 percent success.
Ambushes, such as the one Hamas carried out in Rafah on Friday morning, which led to the kidnapping of an officer, were part of the known threats facing the army in Gaza. Not all threats can be dealt with successfully.
Such is the nature of war.
Only a ground offensive could enable the military to destroy the tunnels.
The number of clashes with Hamas cells has dropped dramatically in recent hours, an indication of the army’s firm control of the areas under its control. Exceptions to this include sporadic mortar and sniper fire.
Hamas’s stockpile of medium- range rockets, of the kind it has used to target Greater Tel Aviv, has been depleted. The terror group has been firing fewer of these rockets, to pace itself for a drawn-out conflict.
Over the weekend, Hamas focused on firing short-range rockets on southern Israel.
The IDF is reorganizing its ground forces, awaiting further instructions from the security cabinet. Ground forces remain active in three areas across Gaza, as the remaining tunnels are destroyed. Ground units have taken up positions in staging areas, and some will remain in Gaza, to protect Israeli communities from Hamas’s attempts to exploit gaps in the border fence and stage more attacks.
Some in the defense establishment believe that when Hamas’s leaders emerge from their bunkers and see how years of tunneling have turned into rubble, they may think again before investing so many resources into rebuilding their subterranean network. Nothing can stop Israel from reentering Gaza to destroy new tunnels.
Israel has continued to search for a tunnel alert system, and has examined every known technology designed to deal with such a threat.
None have so thus far been found to be effective or operational, according to the defense establishment. None would allow security chiefs to sleep soundly and expect to know in real-time when Hamas’s diggers begin tunneling toward Israel again.