With another tunnel destroyed, will Hamas finally respond?

IDF forces are believed to have destroyed four terrorist tunnels since late October, including ones constructed by both Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas.

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January 15, 2018 18:57
3 minute read.
Hamas tunnels

Hamas terror operatives in Gaza tunnel. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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The latest Hamas tunnel destroyed by Israel was a message to terrorist groups in Gaza that the time to use their strategic underground asset is soon coming to an end.

The IDF is believed to have destroyed four terrorist tunnels since October, targeting one in late October belonging to Islamic Jihad, and one in December and another two this month belonging to Hamas.

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While Islamic Jihad retaliated against Israel for the destruction of their tunnel – which also killed 14 terrorists – by a volley of 12 mortar shells against an IDF post, Hamas has been more hesitant to settle the score.

The tunnel destroyed on Saturday night, however, was different than the others which penetrated into Israel, this one crossing into Egypt’s restive Sinai Peninsula.

Dug from Rafah to a length of about 1.5 kilometers, it also penetrated some 180 meters into Israeli territory, passing under the only commercial crossing between Gaza and Israel – the Kerem Shalom crossing – as well as beneath several strategic targets, such as gas and diesel pipelines.

Israel has a 240-kilometer border with Sinai. Since Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi’s rise to power, Cairo and Jerusalem are reported to have been cooperating in Sinai in the fight against ISIS militants.

Hamas, the Palestinian terrorist group that rules Gaza, has long been accused by both Egypt and Israel of aiding ISIS in Sinai.



In March of last year, Maj.-Gen. Yoav Poli Mordechai, the coordinator of government activities in the territories, warned Hamas that the IDF was well aware of their cooperation with ISIS in Sinai.

According to Mordechai, “Hamas is brazenly lying to its neighbors and to Egypt, which works to destroy tunnel infrastructures.”

Sisi has waged extensive military operations against ISIS in Sinai which, despite the small size of the group in the peninsula, is considered by many to be one of the most effective ISIS franchises outside of Syria and Iraq that carries out attacks on Egyptian security forces on an almost daily basis. Egypt has been flooding hundreds of smuggling tunnels stretching into Sinai from Gaza with sewage and digging a trench full of seawater to cut off any future tunnel.

While the simmering discontent between the two terror groups has been building for over a year – since Hamas tried repairing relations with Cairo by cracking down on ISIS supporters in Gaza – the groups seemed to have had a “friends with benefits” type of relationship – until early this month.

ISIS Sinai released a 22-minute long video declaring war on Hamas, calling on its supporters to attack the group and showing the execution of a man identified as Muhammad al-Dajani, a former member of Hamas’ Izz a-Din al-Qassam Brigades, for smuggling weapons to the group from Sinai.

“Never surrender to them. Use explosives, silenced pistols and sticky bombs. Bomb their courts and their security locations, for these are the pillars of tyranny that prop up its throne,” said the speaker in the video, later identified as Hamza al-Zamli, originally from Gaza.

“[Hamas] uses its smuggled weapons to empower that which was not revealed by God. It also fights supporters of the Islamic State in Gaza and Sinai, and prevents the migration of these supporters from Gaza to Sinai,” he continued.

Israel denied claims the tunnel was used for smuggling, asserting Hamas intended to use it to bring terrorists from Egypt into the Gaza Strip for a possible combined attack on the Kerem Shalom crossing from the Egyptian side.

But it is believed that Hamas would have also used the tunnel to transfer missiles they would have received from Iran via Sinai.

The smuggling of such weapons through territory with a large ISIS presence would have meant that an agreement would have had to have been made to either work with the jihadist group or have them turn a blind eye.

The tunnel destroyed by Israel may have killed two birds with one stone. For one thing, it prevented what could have been a large-scale terrorist attack against the sole commercial crossing into the devastated Gaza Strip and the smuggling of advanced Iranian weapons into the Hamas-ruled enclave.

But it also has the potential to make Cairo reevaluate its relationship with Hamas, specifically in regards to intelligence and security. The tunnel exposed Hamas’s deceit toward Egypt, as well as exposing the extent of its relationship with the Islamic State’s most powerful affiliate.

All of these factors taken together may push Hamas, and to an extent Islamic Jihad, to use their remaining tunnels against Israel before it’s too late.

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