The Hamas-constructed underground carrier unearthed near kibbutz Ein Hashlosha
and made public in October, was not a “terrorist tunnel” as most media outlets
and commentators have dubbed it. The latter conjures up images of a covert means
of access designed for a small guerrilla group on a mission to inflict quick
carnage and creating maximum political theater. The description emanates from
the record of past attacks and from a deep rooted conception which fails to take
into account the transformation of the larger terrorist organizations
By all measures the “Khan Younis tunnel,” as Hamas
has called it, was not a run of the mill structure: It stretched 1,700 meters,
of which 1,400 meters were dug inside Gazan territory.
excavation deep inside its area, Hamas undertook an extra measure to conceal its
work. An estimated 600 tons of cement were used to support the tunnel,
suggesting it was meant to withstand various weather and soil conditions and be
at the ready once the order came. The cement support arches embedded along its
path also suggest it was designed to enable the detonation of explosives without
compromising its structure. Indeed the tunnel had branched out allowing
construction of sub-tunnels where explosives could be placed or from where
simultaneous assaults launched. Most importantly, it was a two-meter-high and
one-meter-wide allowing a sizable force — perhaps as large as a brigade — to
deploy underground and quickly emerge ready for action.
attack by such a force would be tantamount to a mini-invasion rather than
“normal” terrorism. Its mission could be the capture and holding of a nearby
Israeli community. The hoisting of a Hamas flag over an Israeli settlement, even
for a short time, would constitute a symbolic act of liberating Palestine and a
significant political and morale boost to the “axis of resistance” forces. Worse
yet, if successful,repelling such an assault would likely present the IDF with a
complicated, prolonged and potentially bloody operation. The crisis could even
trigger a psychological sockwave in Israel akin to the aftermath of the 1973 Yom
It is in this context that Hamas Politburo chief Khaled
Mashaal’s depiction of the underground structure as a “strategic tunnel”
acquires its true import.
In fact, recent preparations undertaken by
Hezbollah in Lebanon should be taken into account before deeming this scenario
as far fetched.
In February 2011, Hezbollah's chief Hassan Nasrallah
declared he is ready for another war with Israel. If war comes, “I tell the
fighters of the resistance that one day they might be asked to liberate the
Galilee,” Nasrallah was quoted as telling a Resistance Martyrs Day
Reportedly, the Hezbollah operational plan was formulated in
tandem with the regime in Tehran and includes a force of 5,000 fighters who have
completed training in Iran and are tasked with “liberating” designated zones in
northern Israel, including the cities of Nahariya and Karmiel and the town of
Shlomi — municipalities with a combined population of over 100,000
The Lebanese newspaper Al- Joumhouria reported on August 22
that over 10,000 Hezbollah fighters participated in the organization’s largest
military exercise to date in the previous week.
Accordingly, the drill
included defensive tactics and “preparations to conquer the Upper Galilee.” The
paper added that some 2,000 elite Hezbollah fighters were to continue training
in Iran to carry out these missions.
While Hamas may seek to coordinate
its assault with incursions along Israel’s other borders, the likelihood of its
mini-invasion scenario must be assessed independently as well. In particular,
other newly discovered Hamas tunnels reaching into Israel and those which may
still lie hidden, suggest the organization is executing a comprehensive doctrine
of underground warfare. Hamas is fully invested in preparations for a
multi-pronged attack which apparently envisions activation of numerous tunnels
simultaneously just ahead of, or in conjunction with the main assault.
Yahya al-Sinwar – a Hamas political bureau member and co-founder of the Izz
ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the group's military wing – observed in 2011, Hamas’s
power afforded it a lot of options. Israel should know that the military
equation had dramatically shifted in favor of the Palestinians and that Hamas
should make plans consistent with this change to enshrine the new principle:
“Today, we are the ones who invade the Israelis. They do not invade us,” he
Even if claims by other Hamas officials, like Moussa Abu
Marzouk, deputy head of the organization’s political bureau, are accurate that
“the tunnel which...was extremely costly in terms of money, effort and
blood” was actually meant for “freeing our heroic prisoners [held by Israel],”
it should not be taken to mean a replay of the 2006 kidnapping of lone IDF
soldier Gilad Shalit.
Rather, Hamas likely aims for a mega-kidnapping
attack which could be launched separately or as the second phase of the
In the latter case, after inflicting countless
civilian and/or military casualties and raising its flag over “occupied
Palestine” the invading force would withdraw through its tunnel taking along
scores of abducted Israelis. Either way, Hamas would seek to avoid protracted
negotiations or partial deals. The mass kidnapping would aim instead to force a
quick and humiliating Israeli capitulation and the release of all Palestinian
terrorists held in its prisons.
Israel’s reaction to the exposure of
Hamas’ offensive preparations was surprisingly low-key. Some defense officials
even hurried to reassure the public that the “unprecedented” tunnel did not mean
Hamas was interested in a confrontation “at this stage.” It appears that
regional and global diplomatic considerations had ruled out a punitive military
response. However, Jerusalem’s restraint undermines the credibility of Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s pledge — aimed to deter Iran’s nuclear march —
that, when it comes to dealing with developing threats to its security, Israel
will act even if it “stand[s] alone.”
The writer is the author of The
Continuing Storm: Iraq, Poisonous Weapons and Deterrence.
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