An IDF soldier traverses a tunnel used by Hamas gunmen for cross-border attacks.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Israel still lacks a solution to the Hamas tunnel threat, even though it has invested more than NIS 600 million in detection technology and trained every ground soldier to handle an attack from underground.
According to a former security cabinet minister, despite Israel’s evaluating more than 400 solutions to the tunnel threat, “none is what we need. We still don’t have the optimal solution.”
The State Comptroller Report published Tuesday has found that the army was unprepared to deal with the threat posed by Hamas tunnels before the 2014 war known as Operation Protective Edge, despite prior knowledge by Israel’s political leadership.
This is one of the major criticisms leveled at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon by the state comptroller, who found that despite receiving intelligence about the threat, they did not pass on its severity.
Yoav Gallant, a member of the security cabinet and former IDF general, told The Jerusalem Post
recently that Hamas had built 30 tunnels by 2014 after deciding to use them as a “strategic weapon” against Israel in 2010.
This was a major intelligence failure that struck fear into the Israeli population and resulted in the deaths of 11 IDF soldiers. During the war the IDF discovered 32 cross-border attack tunnels used by Hamas to ferry weapons and operatives into Israeli territory and destroyed most of them.
Since then, Israel’s Elbit Systems and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems – the same companies that produced the Iron Dome missile defense system – have been working on the development of an “underground Iron Dome” system which would be capable of detecting, mapping, and neutralizing cross-border tunnels.
The IDF’s Combat Engineering Corp’s elite unit, Yahalom, the unit which was responsible for blowing up the tunnels during the war, has also changed since the war, having received upgraded technology to deal with the threat as well having increased threefold in strength since the war.
The army’s overall training of soldiers has also changed since the war. According to a senior IDF officer in the ground forces training branch, there has been a significant improvement in the ground forces, navy, air force and intelligence.
The merging of the ground forces with the Technological and Logistics Directorate under the command of Maj.- Gen. Kobi Barak has also greatly improved the army’s ability to coordinate not only during training exercises but in times of war, he told the Post.
But Hamas is known to have invested large amounts of its budget into rebuilding tunnels and despite all the work Israel has invested into the tunnel threat, Channel 2’s Amit Segal reported on Sunday that government sources have confirmed that the terrorist group still has at least 15 attack tunnels crossing under the border into Israel, half of what they had in 2014.
Over the past year the army discovered a tunnel and Israelis living near the border with Gaza have reported hearing underground drilling, raising fears of new attack tunnels.
A senior IDF officer told the Post
that the army is well aware of Hamas’s continued tunnel building, and takes every report of drilling seriously. Hamas builds its tunnels toward civilian communities in a strategic maneuver to inflict the largest amount of casualties, he said.
The IDF has warned that Hamas has restored its military capabilities to their pre-2014 strength, and in January of last year its politburo chief Ismail Haniyeh boasted that, “There are those who think that the calm is a time of rest, but this is a continuation of the struggle. The Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades are working and preparing for Palestine. Fighters are digging twice as much as the number of tunnels dug in Vietnam.
The military assumption is that Hamas is not looking for a confrontation with Israel in the near future, but this was the same assumption by Military Intelligence prior to the outbreak of the 2014 war.