An IDF soldier traverses a tunnel used by Hamas gunmen for cross-border attacks.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Development of a new tunnel-detection system by Israel to help prevent the types of cross-border attacks experienced during last summer’s war in Gaza has progressed in recent months, a senior IDF source said Tuesday.
Israel has been seeking a system to provide it with real-time alerts on tunnel digging and underground movement, in order to thwart Hamas’s subterranean cross-border network used repeatedly during the conflict to send cells into Israel to commit deadly attacks. Thirty- two cross-border tunnels were destroyed by the IDF during the operation.
“We have been trying out a number of models in recent months with quite a few successes,” the IDF source stated. “We have tried technological solutions that brought us achievements, but it is still limited and has not given us full solutions. I want to be careful and say, don’t expect for this [a full solution] to happen now.”
Still, he said there has been “significant progress,” adding that experiments are continuing.
Furthermore, the source said, the army has created a bigger version of the elite Combat Engineering unit, Yahalom, following “challenges we encountered in recent wars.”
The enlarged unit will specialize in underground warfare, mapping out, and identifying tunnels. It will receive support from a technical unit that will provide all of the necessary technological assistance, the source said.
“Our focus is on detection and destruction of tunnels. We saw that it is very challenging to destroy the tunnels and that we needed to insert of a lot of explosives [into Gaza last summer] to destroy the tunnels. We want to do it quicker,” the source added. “We are also focusing on mapping them out. Some members of the [bigger] unit will deal with operations, and others will deal with the ammunition side of things.”
Hamas has “not abandoned” its tunnel- building work, the source said. “It has learned from the last war, and it will only improve for the next one.”
In August, a senior military source confirmed that the defense establishment is completing the operational testing of a new tunnel- detection system, designed to sense when terrorists in Gaza are digging cross-border underground passages into Israel and finding existing tunnels.
“We are attempting to set up a program that will cost between NIS 1.5 billion and NIS 2.5b.,” the source said. The system has passed a laboratory test, and the current trial simulates conditions “that resemble the battlefield,” the source said in August.
In recent years, the IDF, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and other agencies have worked with Israeli defense companies to try and develop detection systems. In 2005 and 2006, two systems were shortlisted and tested but failed their trials. Defense firms went back to the drawing board and brought out an enhanced version that has since passed the laboratory phase.
“We have been dealing with this for many years and there really are very few industries that engage in this due to a lack of ground infrastructure or financial incentive,” the source said.
“We are trying to take advantage of all of the components in the laboratory. We learned that mixing [components] can deliver solutions,” he added.
The current program has been developed over the past two years, and is the fruit of research on past, failed projects. Should the current test prove successful, the army will seek to combine it with other defensive means, such as a subterranean wall located in sensitive areas near the Gaza border, to create a multi-layered response to the threat of attack tunnels.
Over the past decade, the Southern Command has examined some 700 projects for tunnel detection or blockage systems.
“There is no proposal that hasn’t been looked at,” the source said.