The tunnel that the Israel Defense Forces blew up recently on the Gazan border adjacent to Kibbutz Nahal Oz was known to the army since last summer’s Operation Protective Edge. The tunnel’s path within the Gaza Strip was dealt with then. For tactical reasons the army decided to wait until now to destroy the tunnel’s exit in Israeli territory.
During the fighting last summer the IDF located 32 attack tunnels and destroyed all of them, but in some cases the entire length of the tunnel was not demolished, only the parts closest to the border. Since then, Hamas announced that it planned to repair these tunnels and even issued pictures of its operatives ostensibly working on them. Israel, however, believes the work is taking place on connecting and defensive tunnels deeper in Gaza territory, relatively far from the border.
Hamas is focusing on those tunnels for several reasons. It seems Hamas was somewhat surprised that Israel’s intelligence services, the Shin Bet and the Mossad, were able to map out its tunnel network with relative accuracy. In such cases, the organization prefers to engage in “reverse engineering” that will identify its weak spots before launching a new offensive project. Moreover, Hamas is having serious financial problems, and there is a shortage of cement in the Strip, both of which are making it difficult for Gaza’s rulers to build new attack tunnels.
Nevertheless, it’s reasonable to assume that when the organization overcomes these difficulties, it will resume digging. The number of offensive options Hamas has against Israel is relatively limited. And although tens of millions of dollars (some say hundreds of millions) were invested in these tunnels and their results were middling at best, the tunnels still proved themselves as a deterrent offensive tool in the conflict with Israel.
Eleven IDF soldiers were killed in attacks Hamas initiated via three tunnels during the fighting. The tunnels sowed a degree of panic among the Israeli public, and caused sharp arguments and exchanges of blame among senior Israeli officials. It’s hard to believe Hamas will give up the tunnels as an offensive weapon during the next round of violence. Therefore, the IDF is now improving its readiness for tunnel warfare, including by doubling the size of the Engineering Corps’ special operations unit and by field testing new technologies for uncovering tunnels.
The task Hamas is devoting the most attention to now is the rehabilitation of its rocket arsenal. Israel’s Military Intelligence believes that at the end of last summer’s war, Hamas was left with a quarter to a third of its rockets. The rest had been fired, destroyed by the Israeli air force or intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system. Hamas believes its rocket reserves have dropped below the red line and it’s working as quickly as possible to manufacture its own rockets, given the difficulty now with smuggling weapons into Gaza. That’s why there have been numerous missile tests aimed at the sea; the group has been conducting such tests nearly every week.
Hamas’ preparations are moving forward even as the political crisis between Gaza and Cairo deepens. The generals’ regime in Egypt blames the Hamas leadership for contributing to the terror attack against the Egyptian Army in the Sinai late last month that killed 32 Egyptians. Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi and his men see the Palestinian group as a branch of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood that maintains extensive relationships with the jihadist terror groups in Sinai. That’s the reason for the Egyptians’ repeated referral to Hamas as a terror organization, along with Cairo’s crackdown on smuggling that included the demolition of homes on the Egyptian side of Rafah.
The demonstrative split between Egypt and Hamas, the growing hostility between Hamas and Fatah, the fact that the postwar rebuilding of Gaza is being delayed for lack of funds (UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, recently announced it was no longer transferring aid because the designated funds had run out), all raise the level of tension between Gaza and Israel as well. For all these reasons, even without the destruction of the tunnel near Nahal Oz, the Gaza border is more volatile than usual.
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