A barrier stretching the entire border between Israel and the Gaza Strip has been completed after three and a half years of work, the Defense Ministry announced Tuesday.
The barrier is 65 kilometers long, and cost an estimated 3.5 billion shekels ($1.11 billion) to build. Its development was announced in 2016, two years after Hamas used underground tunnels to target Israeli troops during fighting between Israel and the militant group.
The barrier features a sensor-equipped underground wall, a six-meter high above-ground fence, and a barrier at sea with monitoring equipment to detect incursions from the water. In addition, the wall includes remotely controlled weapons systems and an array of radar systems with cameras that cover the entire territory of the Gaza Strip.
Israel also built control rooms for the army's battalions, brigades and the division serving in the Gaza Strip to direct fighting and operations. Advanced intelligence and monitoring systems were installed along the barrier to prevent infiltration across the border into Israel from the Gaza Strip.
The barrier is a complex engineering and technological system: the only one of its kind in the world. Alongside Israeli experts, global professionals were needed to help its construction, particularly from Europe.
Brig. Gen. Eran Ofir, the head of the border barrier project in the Defense Ministry, said in a briefing with military correspondents that the barrier was “one of the most complex projects the defense establishment has ever built.”
Underneath the tall metal fence is an underground barrier meant to prevent militants from digging tunnels under the border into Israel. The Defense Ministry did not say exactly how deep the barrier went underground for security reasons, but it includes sensors to warn Israel when something nears the concrete wall.
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“There are other means on the ground that are supposed to identify tunnels and they provide the answer to the attempts by Hamas to challenge the barrier,” said Ofir. “This barrier does not allow the construction of more tunnels that will enter Israeli territory. We are on guard all the time to watch and improve, and ensure that the other side cannot pass.” Though Ofir admitted that nothing is 100 percent secure, he estimates "that the underground wall provides a very important response to the matter.”
Defense Minister Benny Gantz said “the barrier is a technological and creative project of supreme importance, which takes away from Hamas one of the capabilities it tried to develop, and places an iron wall, sensors and concrete between [Hamas] and the residents of [Israel’s] south.”
The IDF will “continue to prepare to neutralize any ability to harm Israel’s citizens, prevent the flow of Iranian knowledge and technology to Gaza and prevent any attempt by Hamas to operate” its branches in Israel and the West Bank.
Defense officials described the project as their highest priority, which meant construction was not halted even in times of increased tension – only actual rounds of fighting paused the project. “We worked under fire, we almost never stopped the work,” said Ofir. “Only in cases where they shot at us did we stop the work, and a few hours later we returned.”
Around 140,000 tons of iron and steel were used in building the barrier, dozens of antennas and hundreds of cameras and radars were installed, and over 12,000 workers labored at dozens of sites, the Defense Ministry said.
In addition to Gantz, Israeli army chief Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, Defense Ministry director general Amir Eshel and other senior defense and military officials participated in the ceremony marking the end of the project – along with the leaders of the local governments from the region near the Gaza Strip.
“This barrier is part of the iron wall of our policy on defense, on the ground, in the air, at sea and in general,” said Kochavi. The barrier “changes reality – what came before will be no longer.”