Israeli Military Deployed Heavy Engineering Equipment to Locate Gaza Tunnels

IDF officer says discovery of Hamas-dug tunnel extending into Israeli territory unlikely to lead to hostilities; army operating on assumptions additional tunnels exist.

IDF forces near the area where a Hamas tunnel was discovered, on April 18, 2016.
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The Israeli military has deployed some 100 pieces of heavy engineering equipment at various points along the Gaza-Israel border in the last two months as part of an intense search for subterranean passages originating in Hamas-controlled territory in the Strip.

The search continues in the wake of the discovery of a tunnel dug by Hamas, leading from the Gaza Strip into southwestern Israel. The military uncovered the tunnel some 10 days ago but only announced it on Monday. This is the first such tunnel to be unearthed since Operation Protective Edge in Gaza in the summer of 2014.

The tunnel in question was found at a depth of 30 meters and is located near Kibbutz Holit, part of the Eshkol region.

“The exposure of the tunnel is a reminder of the threats,” IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot said, adding that “the IDF will invest technological and intelligence efforts to remove the threat.”

Eisenkot also hinted at the case of the soldier charged with manslaughter, saying: "In these times in which the public discourse is more complicated than ever, a commander's voice must be heard loud and clear, and provide a compass to lead the IDF. Only in this way can we maintain the IDF as an official army and permit it to carry out its mission. The IDF will continue to serve as our people's moral backbone and a defensive shield for the people of Israel."

A senior IDF Southern Command officer said the efforts to locate tunnels are being carried out both openly and secretly. The working assumption of Southern Command, he said, is that there are additional tunnels crossing into Israel proper. Command staff does not believe that the militant Hamas organization will respond to the discovery of the tunnel.

“I don’t think that one tunnel will lead to deterioration [in the current situation]. Hamas has lost an asset. If a systematic capability to locate [tunnels] is demonstrated, and we discover more and more tunnels, then it will face a dilemma,” the officer asserted.

At the beginning of the year, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot – who paid a visit to the newly unearthed tunnel on April 8 – stated that one of the army’s primary goals would be locating tunnels and thwarting their use in launching attacks on Israel. The Southern Command was assigned the task of “locating and destroying every tunnel that penetrates the country, but without reaching an escalation [point].”

For his part, head of the Southern Command, Maj. Gen. Eyal Zamir, has appeared in a video clip distributed by the IDF Spokesman, saying: “Hamas is preparing itself for war but is aware of the heavy price if it breaks out.”

IDF forces will continue to act “in a broad and continuous effort to locate additional tunnels in the sector if they exist,” he stated.

Even before Operation Protective Edge – which Israel fought against Hamas and its allies in Gaza in 2014 – and of course since the war, IDF forces have been called upon dozens of times to investigate concerns over the presence of tunnels after residents in southwestern Israel, near the border of the Strip, reported hearing the sound of digging.

Last week Southern Command staff said any these cases had been ruled out after being checked. Even when certain subterranean passages were found in the course of Protective Edge, it turned out that there was no connection between them and reports of the sound of digging.