At Al-Monitor, Shlomi Eldar has an excellent article about the vast network of tunnels that Hamas has constructed in recent years– both within Gaza and, of more immediate concern to Israel, from Gaza into Israeli territory.
It helps explain the urgency with which the IDF is operating to destroy the cross-border tunnels, through which Hamas terrorists had made several attempts to launch attacks on Israelis.
On the eve of its incursion into the Gaza Strip, Israel agreed to an Egyptian outline for a cease-fire to restore calm. It was only after 13 militants from the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades penetrated Israel in an attempt to launch a terrorist attack in Kerem Shalom that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) got the green light to begin a ground assault. And it was only then that soldiers discovered there was an underground Gaza just like there was an aboveground Gaza, and that the Hamas movement had invested an enormous amount of resources into constructing that underground Gaza.
It was suddenly revealed that there are two Gazas: One is the crowded, impoverished and faltering Gaza, but there is also an “underground Gaza,” buried deep below the surface. As of now, the IDF has located 36 tunnels, but even during the current fighting, with the IDF still searching the area, terrorists have been sent to launch attacks deep in Israeli territory through tunnels that have yet to be discovered. According to the security source’s assessment, these are enormous tunnels, the planning and preparation of which probably lasted approximately three years. The cost of excavating, reinforcing and maintaining each tunnel is approximately $1 million, and as far as is now known, dozens of such quality tunnels were dug along the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, from the northernmost part of the territory all the way to the south.
The Israeli exit of these tunnels is sometimes as far as half a kilometer beyond the Green Line. Over the years, once the tunnels were completed, they all required routine maintenance to ensure that they remained operational and hidden. It was even necessary to protect them from flooding during winter storms, a problem exacerbated by Gaza’s broken and collapsing drainage and runoff system. One can only wonder why Hamas — a movement that advocated the improvement of life quality for Gaza residents and offered them “change and reform” — did not even invest as little as one-hundredth of the cost of the tunnels to renovate Gaza’s sewage system. Instead, it invested in building more tunnels and rockets.
Much to the misfortune of the people of Gaza, Hamas has invested far more resources in “underground Gaza” than in “upper Gaza.”… The border tunnels and the defensive tunnels intended to ensure the safety of the Hamas command cadre proved that the movement’s priorities were flawed. The movement was founded as a welfare organization, intended to provide for the needy of Gaza, but instead it invested its resources in its own needs, at the expense of the population. Anyone who voted for Hamas in the 2006 elections as a way of protesting Fatah’s corruption received a very different kind of corruption instead. The “change and reform” that Hamas offered its voters was invested in its tunnels at the expense of the people of Gaza.
The tunnels along the border with Israel are more than just an extensive engineering project that consumed considerable resources. It is a project that requires the training of hundreds of armed Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades’ militants to engage in face-to-face combat in Israeli territory, though the chances of returning alive from it are slim. According to the teachings of Hamas, Ash-shahada fi sabil Allah, “Death upon the order of Allah to sanctify His name,” has become the combat doctrine used to train the movement’s most elite units.
Hamas operated beneath Israel’s radar when it embarked on its extensive project to dug these tunnels, but at the same time, it also had to prepare its people for what these tunnels meant. Without preparing a cadre of martyrs, who agree to sacrifice their lives for the sake of jihad with Israel, the vast network of tunnels is neither effective nor efficient. Indoctrinating hundreds of volunteers with the idea of martyrdom requires no less a long and exhaustive investment as building a tunnel. Operation Protective Edge not only uncovered the terrorist tunnels but also the terrorists who Hamas has been training over the years to operate through its network of tunnels.
It’s good that the IDF has finally become aware of the cross-border tunnels and is destroying them, although it’s unfortunate that this process, undertaken in a crowded residential area of Gaza (where else would Hamas place them?), is costing many lives.
When the current operation is over, however, some serious questions need to be asked about the apparent failure to detect the construction of so many elaborate tunnels under Israeli territory. Perhaps some heads need to roll.
(Hat tip: Aloevera)
Update: I generally don’t enjoy watching people being blown up, but in this case…