IDF Southern Command Cold to Proposal of Underground Barrier to Thwart Gaza Tunnels

Army discussing $2.3-billion project to prevent and identify tunnels reaching from Gaza into Israel, but a senior officer warns it could still be bypassed.

Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen
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An Israeli soldier inside a tunnel uncovered in Gaza.
An Israeli soldier inside a tunnel uncovered in Gaza. Credit: Reuters
Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen

The IDF's Southern Command is objecting to the idea of erecting an underground barrier to prevent the digging of more attack tunnels from the Gaza Strip into Israel.

Over the past week, the Southern Command and Gaza Division have been discussing possible technological methods to locate tunnels or prevent them from reaching Israel.

According to a senior IDF commander, the army is currently considering three possibilities – some have to do with identifying the digging of a new or existing tunnel, and some suggest a physical, underground barrier.

The army has been trying to come up with technological solutions to the tunnels issue for the past decade. Some equipment has been deployed in the area around Gaza, with the aim of identifying underground tunnels – but so far with no real success.

According to the army's data, about 400 million shekels ($117 million) was invested in research and development in this field since 2007 – meaning less than 50 million shekels a year.

The IDF also believes that currently available technology cannot provide a fully reliable method of locating underground tunnels and tunnel routes.

One option that was raised was erecting a kind of a piled wall – a deep underground fence stretching along the 65-kilometer Gaza border. The Southern Command, however, objects to the idea, mainly for budget reasons.

According to a senior officer, such a project could cost up to 8 billion shekels ($2.3 billion), and would include both constructing the fence to a depth of dozens of meters below ground and positioning detectors to identify attempts to bypass the barrier.

The officer claimed, however, that since this solution would not be "bypass-proof," the technological solutions must be accompanied by military capabilities to counter the tunnels – which would also serve a deterrent against using them to carry out terror attacks.

As the military discusses the "day after" the Gaza conflict, the Gaza Division wants to maintain a perimeter west of the fence, where IDF troops could operate. In the past, the reasoning for such a perimeter was the threat of IEDs; now, it's the threat of tunnels.

The border between the Gaza Strip and Israel was reconstructed three months ago, at a cost of 25 million shekels. An officer in the Gaza Division said the decision was made by the IDF's Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, and included the addition of some intelligence equipment along the border, "when we realized the threat is not on the fence, but behind it, deeper inside the Strip."

After the troops' departure from Gaza on Tuesday, the army is now focusing on repairing the fence, which was damaged during the fighting. "It's not just a fence – we built an operational space, and the barrier is part of it," the officer said. "However, I want a space where the civilian public can feel a sense of security, and not that it's living under siege."

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