The Tunnel of War in Gaza

Jerusalem: Israeli military announced on Monday that two ”terrorist squads” had infiltrated Israel through a tunnel from northern Gaza. The spokesman said Israeli aircraft hit one group; the second fired an antitank missile at an army vehicle before 10 of the operatives were killed by return fire.

And now, as the full extent of the Hamas tunnel network becomes clear, IDF says dismantling the burrows is a seminal priority. ”We’ve expanded the forces on the ground in order to accomplish that mission,” said Captain Eytan Buchman, an Israeli military spokesman. ”All of Gaza is an underground city, and the amount of infrastructure Hamas built up over the years is immense. There are tunnels, extended bunkers, weapons storage facilities, even within urban areas.”

Israeli military had early called Hamas’ “terror tunnels” as “complex and advanced” in a statement on Friday. Calling them a means to carrying out attacks such as abductions of Israeli civilians and soldiers alike; infiltrations into Israeli communities, mass murders and hostage-taking scenarios.”

A Palestinian militia document reportedly obtained by news website al-monitor described the new terror emerging as ”tunnel war”. It called the objective of the underground network as a way ”to surprise the enemy and strike it a deadly blow that doesn’t allow a chance for survival or escape or allow him a chance to confront and defend itself”.

Saturday’s reports stated that Hamas fighters wearing Israeli army uniforms slipped from central Gaza into Israel through a tunnel and attacked an Israeli army patrol, killing two soldiers. In a second attempt on Saturday to enter Israel through their tunnels, the Washington Post said, the Israeli military discovered Hamas operatives carrying handcuffs and tranquillisers in an apparent attempt to kidnap soldiers; the militants were killed. Also on Saturday, a militant climbed out of a concealed tunnel in southern Gaza and started firing at soldiers.

Analysts say the tunnels are a major prong of Hamas’ military strategy against Israel. The IDF has sussed out 36 of what it calls ”terror tunnels”, but there are probably more. While the Gaza Strip remains mired in poverty – the 2011 per capita income was $1165 – Hamas is thought to have sunk more than $1 million into the excavation and maintenance of every tunnel.

If the tunnels are a result of Hamas’ 2006 election, the group got down to business almost immediately. In June of that year, Hamas used a tunnel to capture Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. That day, according to Haaretz, militants crossed underneath the Gaza border and attacked Shalit’s guard tower at 5.13am. Within six minutes, the attackers had secreted Shalit back across the border in a tunnel – and he wasn’t returned to Israel for five years.

There are three types of tunnel, experts say. The first are economic: hundreds of tunnels burrowing into Egypt, which allowed Hamas to funnel in resources, guns and rockets until the Egyptians sealed off many of them.

Another set of tunnels reportedly services the Hamas high command. ”Every single leader of Hamas, from its lowest ranking bureaucrats to its most senior leaders, is intimately familiar with the route to the security tunnel assigned to him and his family,” al-Monitor reported. ”The most senior leadership has its own specific tunnel.”

The last kind is allegedly driving the Israeli invasion: tunnels that can carry Hamas militants under the Gaza border and into Israel.

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