Construction on a new barrier along the sea in Gaza.
(photo credit: DEFENSE MINISTRY)
The Defense Ministry has started construction on an underwater barrier, which will stretch from the southern Israeli community of Zikim out into the Mediterranean to stave off Hamas infiltration by sea.
According to Erez Cohen, the head of the Defense Ministry’s Engineering and Construction Department, the work is expected to be completed by the end of the year.
The barrier is made up of three layers, including one below sea level, a layer of armored stone and a third layer with barbed wire. In addition, a fence will surround the breakwater to provide a final measure of security. The length and depth of the barrier have not been revealed.
“This is the only barrier of its kind in the world, which will effectively block the possibility of infiltrating into Israel via the sea... This will further thwart Hamas’s loss of strategic capabilities,” said Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman.
The decision to build an upgraded naval barrier was decided upon after five Hamas frogmen tried to infiltrate Kibbutz Zikim during Operation Protective Edge in 2014. Armed with automatic weapons, fragmentation grenades and several types of explosive devices, they were engaged and killed by the IDF in a combined attack from the sea, ground and air.
Hamas has significantly expanded its naval commando unit in the four years since the last conflict, maintaining a reported 1,500 frogmen. The new barrier, which has been designed to withstand severe sea conditions and serve the defense establishment for many years, is aimed at preventing similar incidents.
The border with Gaza is Israel’s most volatile. Thousands of Palestinians have demonstrated along the Gaza-Israel security fence since March 30, with at least 116 allegedly having been killed by IDF fire and over 13,000 wounded since the “Great March of Return” began, according to the Gazan Health Ministry.
Palestinians take part in protests for the "Great March of Return" in Gaza (credit: Reuters)
In February, a senior navy officer warned that Hamas was increasingly turning to the sea to carry out attacks against IDF troops and Israeli civilians, saying that “Hamas sees potential in the sea like they saw potential in their tunnels.”
Israel’s navy has placed more emphasis on training for underwater infiltrations. In 2015, it began deploying dozens of sensors as part of a new system named “Aqua Shield,” which can detect and alert the navy to suspicious underwater movement. The sensors were placed on the sea floor near both Gaza and Lebanon’s water borders with Israel.
Last April, Israeli authorities foiled an attempt to smuggle some 30 sets of professional-grade scuba gear into the Gaza Strip. The equipment, which is believed to have been destined for Hamas frogmen, was hidden in a shipment of sporting gear being brought into the coastal enclave through the Kerem Shalom crossing.
Importing dual-use goods into the Gaza Strip, such as wetsuits, requires a special permit.