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IDF Spokesperson's Unit
IDF troops near an uncovered tunnel inside the Gaza Strip, July 19, 2014. Photo by IDF Spokesperson's Unit

When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, together with Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, ordered the Israel Defense Forces to launch a ground incursion into the Gaza Strip on Thursday night, their stated goal was to “damage the underground terror tunnels constructed in Gaza leading into Israeli territory.”

That was stated alongside the general objective of Operation Protective Edge: “to restore quiet and safety to Israelis for a long time to come, while significantly harming the infrastructure of Hamas and other terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip."

As day 15 of Operation Protective Edge comes to a close, and along with it the fifth day of Israel’s ground incursion, Haaretz sums up the top articles on the tunnels that extend from the Gaza Strip into subterranean Israeli territory.

Gili Cohen describes the elaborate design of the tunnels: They are connected to electricity and sometimes have a phone line; usually include numerous branches in Israeli territory; are dug at various depths; and can take years to excavate. Israeli intelligence, she says, believes these tunnels, designed for attacks inside Israeli territory, are dug by special Hamas crews with expertise in the field. The conclusion? According to a Southern Command official, it is impossible to deal with subterranean tunnels with aerial attacks, and thus a ground operation is necessary.

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Amir Oren finds it incomprehensible that Israel let the tunnel issue swell into a monstrous threat. He blames the country’s security agencies for failing to deal with the tunnels while there was still time, and says that in doing so played into Hamas’ hands. “Their neglect enabled the infiltration of cells intent on staging attacks and kidnappings, and also drew our troops into battle on Gaza’s home turf,” he writes, adding that an investigation needs to me made into how Israel allowed the tunnels to become such a dangerous threat to its home front.

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Perhaps Israel refrained from launching a surprise operation against the tunnels for fear of provoking Hamas into firing rockets, asserts Oren in another analysis. This is one possible explanation for the “dreadful delay” in devoting efforts to underground battles, despite the general understanding of the danger the tunnels pose. But now that Israel is fighting the tunnels, Oren writes, the only solution is a broad, aggressive battle. He adds that while Israel’s military operation in and of itself is justified and essential, it has nothing directly to do with the aerial exchanges between Israel and Hamas over the preceding week and a half.

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For his part, military analyst Amos Harel expresses dismay that even with IDF troops on the ground in Gaza, armed men successfully breached the border via tunnels to carry out four attacks between Thursday and Monday. He describes the lessons learned about the terror tunnels as a “national strategic failure” and wonders why Israel’s leaders hadn’t already dealt with this threat prior to Operation Defensive Edge. Israel now has to decide how it will proceed from here on, he writes: to content itself with the original aim of dealing with the attack tunnels and then withdraw from the Gaza Strip or to expand the operation in the hope of achieving more.

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In another article, Harel states that Hamas seems more effective at attacking through tunnels today than it was during Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009.

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