The IDF on Tuesday detonated the Hamas attack tunnel it uncovered 10 days ago leading from the southern Gaza Strip into Israeli territory.
The military blasted the tunnel after conducting examinations of its route and inspections of its depth and length.
On Monday, the IDF announced that it had detected the first underground attack tunnel dug by Hamas into Israeli territory since the 2014 war between Hamas and Israel.
The 30-meter deep shaft was likely dug after the military’s 2014 Operation Protective Edge
offensive, according to an IDF assessment, though this has not been verified.
A senior security source said a “systematic, intelligence- based, technological, engineering and operational” approach resulted in the finding of the tunnel. “We have to turn this event, of finding a tunnel, into a system, and find more tunnels,” he added.
“The challenge is very big. The tunnels are very deep. We have capabilities that do not exist anywhere else in the world. We can detect them, at depths of 30 to 40 meters,” the source said. “It is a very complex process.”
He declined to discuss the detection techniques, which remain classified, saying only that “we have developed all sorts of capabilities in recent years, and they have reached the fruition stage.” According to defense sources, before Operation Protective Edge, the defense establishment was able to find tunnels through randomly drilling holes next to each other along the Gaza border.
“This [the current discovery] was not random, but the result of following a pattern. It is a technique that identified their tunnel,” the source added.
A second defense source said Israel is “in a different place” compared to where it was before the 2014 war when it came to finding tunnels.
The defense establishment believes that Hamas is digging several additional attack tunnels, and that these have likely come to within a few meters of the border, but have not yet crossed it.
Gazan diggers could be ordered to tunnel under the border when an escalation looks imminent. With Israel’s new detection capabilities in place, however, it remains unclear how worthwhile it is for Hamas to continue to invest millions of shekels and hire thousands of miners for its tunnel networks.
Hamas said Monday that a “terror tunnel” extending from the coastal enclave into Israel that the IDF uncovered was but a “drop in a sea of moves” it is preparing against Israel.
Hamas’s military wing, the Izzadin Kassam Brigades, said that “after massive criticism [by Israelis] against the enemy’s [Israel’s] military commanders and politicians, and following long months during which they attempted to put an end to the fear prevailing in their country... the enemy announced the discovery of a tunnel east of Rafah this morning.”
Disparaging the IDF, the statement specified that “during today’s maneuver, the enemy attempted to imitate Kassam’s operation methods.”
The Kassam Brigades tried to sew panic among Israelis, saying that the IDF had not discovered all of the details about the tunnel, and Hamas would release this information “at the right time.”
The statement was concluded with the Izzadin Kassam Brigades’ promise that more surprises for the IDF are on the way. “The preparation for war continues in all arenas, and what the enemy uncovered today is but a drop in a sea of moves the resistance has prepared in order to protect its people, free its prisoners and liberate its land.”
The IDF’s Gaza Division, which belongs to the Southern Command, has placed counter-tunnel measures – detecting and destroying them – as its No. 1 priority in 2016. Many units, some of them technical, have been engaged in employing overt and covert capabilities as part of the effort.
“The tunnels are a very serious threat,” the senior security source said, though he added that they are “not a strategic threat.”
“In this case, we proved our ability to identify a deep space and to strike it. We know how to strike it, and this is a huge challenge,” he said.
He described a process that fused intelligence, engineering and operational capabilities to locate and destroy the subterranean threat from Gaza. “If we can do this, detect and destroy them, and achieve it without reaching an escalation, that is our set mission.
If this does lead to an escalation, it will not deter us either,” the senior security source said.
“Our enemy is sophisticated. Hamas is not a group of idiots,” the officer warned. “Hamas draws lessons.” He added that the IDF is “always operating under the assumption that there are more tunnels out there.” The latest shaft is similar to the “family of tunnels” the IDF exposed in Operation Protective Edge, the officer said.