Ya'alon: Hamas rebuilding defensive tunnels; Israel looking for new digging of offensive tunnels

Defense minister: In north, Hezbollah remains deterred, and Free Syrian Army-linked groups are preventing radical Islamists from approaching our border.

A Palestinian tunnel in Gaza.  (photo credit: REUTERS)
A Palestinian tunnel in Gaza.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Hamas has begun to reconstruct its network of tunnels within Gaza, and Israel is watching for signs it is working on cross-border attack tunnels as well, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said on Tuesday.
Under no circumstances will Israelis have to get used to a “drizzle of rockets” anywhere, “not in the North and not in the South,” Ya’alon vowed.
Israel retaliated for Friday’s Gazan rocket attack on the Eshkol region by carrying out an air strike on a cement factory in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, which Hamas has used to rehabilitate its tunnels. The rocket hit an open area.
“We saw that Hamas acted immediately to arrest those who fired the rockets,” Ya’alon said. “In other words, Hamas does not want an escalation. I hope this situation remains as is. It means that Hamas is deterred in the Gaza Strip. I don’t think it has an interest in an escalation. Nevertheless, we have to be prepared for all developments. We certainly see reconstruction of defensive tunnels, there is such activity. With regard to offensive tunnels, we are following all developments.”
So-called defensive tunnels enable Hamas members to move within the Gaza Strip underground, transfer weapons and coordinate hit-and-run more varied. I cannot go into detail,” the commander said.
Drones can spend more time in the air than manned aerial platforms.
They are cheaper to run, and there is no risk to the lives of operators, which the school’s commander said is “the most significant” factor. It is these capabilities, and others, that are behind the drone’s rising prominence in the military.
“The operators stay in a secure environment, enabling us to take the right decisions during missions. This makes it more attractive to pass on missions to the unmanned world. This trend will only increase,” he said. The operators are not physically in the battlefield, but they are very much in the thick of things mentally, the commander stressed. That requires unique training.
“They are exposed to difficult sights of combat. They see what the platform sees, and often, not from a high altitude. They are fully connected to the battlefield. The mental training is very important,” he said.
During training, one instructor is assigned to every two cadets.
Cadets spend many hours on simulator, and then begin real flights, first over open areas, then over built-up regions.
During flights, each cadet is overseen by an instructor. Their intensive routine is made up of pre-flight briefings, two sorties a day, and a debriefing.
Drones have played a key part in all of Israel’s campaigns since the Second Lebanon War of 2006. Veteran officers who become instructors bring along their experience to the school.
After completing the training, cadets “are quickly exposed to difficult operational activity.
They have to be mentally prepared for that. Those who don’t meet our standards don’t finish the course,” the commander said. “Within a year, they are going to be mission commanders. They have to meet the standard.”
Drone operator cadets, all of whom originally enlisted in fighter pilot courses, will go on to serve for at least five years in squadrons. “After three years they will reach a maximal levels of proficiency,” the school commander said.
The commander of the course, a captain who also cannot be named, told the Post about the shaky start to the latest program.
Weeks after it began, the 50-day war with Hamas in Gaza erupted. “We faced a dilemma: Do we continue, or stop the program? We ended up sending instructors to their operational units, as all of them serve in squadrons. They then continued to instruct during the conflict, under a lot of pressure and mental burden. But we could not delay the course. We cannot disrupt the buildup of our military force.”