The Israel Defence Forces have discovered several new terror tunnels emanating from Gaza and crossing into Israel.
On Monday morning Israel destroyed a tunnel leading from Gaza into Israel. According to media reports, the tunnel was discovered near a kibbutz inside Israeli territory.
Both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Avigdor Liberman attributed the discovery to new “breakthrough technology” without specifying what this involved. Speaking at the Likud faction meeting, Netanyahu stated: “I told you many times before that we are developing breakthrough technology to deal with the tunnel threat… We are implementing it. Today, we located a tunnel and we destroyed it.”
Senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader Khaled al-Batsh stated that the tunnel was built by his group for the purpose of kidnapping Israeli soldiers to ransom in exchange for prisoners in Israeli jails.
The destruction of the terror tunnel resulted in seven deaths and 12 injuries. This included two senior terrorist commanders and two terrorists from Hamas’ armed wing. The IDF has stressed that it did not intend these casualties and was only seeking to destroy the tunnel.
Military spokesman Ronem Manelis said that it was a defensive operation within Israeli territory and that most fatalities were cause by “smoke inhalation and other secondary aspects of the blast.” Another IDF spokesperson, Avichay Adraee, posted on Twitter in Arabic: “The explosion took place inside Israeli territory. The majority of the dead were activists that entered the tunnel after it was blown up and died in the Gaza Strip, and not as a [direct] result of the explosion.”
However, although it was a controlled explosion carried out within Israel’s own territory, Palestinian officials and media have claimed (without supporting evidence) that the tunnel was destroyed using missiles filled with poison gas.
According to the Times of Israel, the two local councils bordering the Strip – Eshkol and Shaar Hanegev – announced on Monday night that school students were to be kept in protected areas and not allowed outside for recess and that farmers were also to be kept away from the border. However, these measures were cancelled on Tuesday.
The tunnel was within two kilometres of Israeli towns, but IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus stated that it did not pose a threat to their residents.
A history of terror tunnels
This tunnel was the third such tunnel that the military has destroyed since Operation Protective Edge in 2014. However, unlike the first two which were “leftovers” from the conflict, this tunnel was “in progress”.
In 2014, several Israelis were killed when Hamas gunmen emerged from tunnels dug into Israel. By the end of the conflict, the IDF said that it had destroyed 32 cross border tunnels. Many of these tunnels run under civilian areas in Gaza. Aside from this making the tunnels harder to locate, Hamas aims to delegitimise Israel by forcing it into combat in civilian areas.
Meanwhile, this incident follows a report from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) on Sunday of the discovery of a Hamas terror tunnel underneath an UNRWA school.
In a statement, UNRWA said that “the presence of a tunnel underneath an UNRWA installation, which enjoys inviolability under international law, is unacceptable. It places children and Agency staff at risk.”
According to UNRWA officials, the school where the terror tunnel was found was closed for 10 days and reopened this past Wednesday.
Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon accused Hamas of using UNRWA facilities as “terror bases” and Gazan children as “human shields.”
“Yet another terror tunnel under an UNRWA schoolyard. This is what Hamas rule looks like and this is more proof of the double war crime committed as terror tunnels are built to attack Israelis, while using the children of Gaza as human shields,” Danon said in a statement. “We cannot accept a situation in which UNRWA schools are used as terror bases. This dangerous incident must not be ignored and strict oversight is needed to ensure that UN facilities are not used to protect terrorists,” he added.
A similar tunnel was discovered earlier this year in June under two adjacent UNRWA schools during construction work. At the time, Hamas “strongly condemned” the UNRWA revelation, on grounds that it would be used by Israel to “justify its crimes”.
The new Gaza-Israel barrier
In the last few months, the IDF has begun a major 3 billion shekel ($US833 million) project to construct a massive barrier along the border with Gaza over 2 years. The barrier will include a concrete wall fitted with sensors, reaching dozens of metres underground and standing six metres high from ground level.
In recent months Israel has “set up concrete factories on the Gaza border, brought foreign labourers and contracted companies to flatten the area around the border and build sand mounds to protect the workers”.
The IDF is also planning an underwater barrier a few kilometres long in the sea on the Gaza border. During the 2014 conflict, five Hamas frogmen (naval commandos) tried to infiltrate Kibbutz Zikim in Israel. Since then, Hamas has reportedly expanded its naval commando unit to include a reported 1,500 frogmen.
Speaking on Tuesday at the joint Australian-New Zealand service commemorating the World War One charge of the Light Horse regiments in Beersheba, Netanyahu made clear Israel’s resolve to protect its citizens from any further terror tunnels.
“We seek peace with all our neighbours, but we will not tolerate any attacks on our sovereignty, on our people, on our land – whether from the air, from the sea, from the ground or below the ground,” he stated.
Image source: Times of Israel