Israel investing heavily to combat Hamas terror tunnels

Despite the complaints and concerns voiced by residents of communities near the border with the Gaza Strip, the defense establishment said it has yet to pinpoint any underground terror tunnels crossing into Israeli territory.

With that, defense officials believe that Hamas is trying to rehabilitate its underground capabilities and build a tunnel network similar to, and even more expansive, than what it had prior to Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014.

In the meantime, residents in the Gaza area are having a hard time sleeping at night. Residents from Moshav Pri Gan, some 4.5 kilometers (2.8 miles) from the Gaza border, and in other communities, have told authorities in recent days that at nights they can hear the sounds of jackhammers digging.

“I can hear the noise for hours on end,” said Pri Gan resident Esti Naim. “I look around and don’t see anyone building or demolishing a home; and it’s at night, and it doesn’t make any sense that someone is using a jackhammer in the dark. I followed the sounds for a few days and nights, and they don’t stop. There is a feeling of fear because we know very well that after Protective Edge Hamas has continued to dig tunnels.”

Eshkol Regional Council head Gadi Yarkoni, who lives in Kibbutz Nirim (just over one mile from the Gaza border), recorded the digging sounds. According to Yarkoni, “Army officials come and check the complaints in the field, and to this point nothing has been found.”

However, Yarkoni said, “The concerns are clear and understandable and reinforce the urgent need to build the obstacle along the fence.”

Yarkoni emphasized that “we ask the government at every opportunity not to drag its feet on this matter and to construct the obstacle immediately.”

Incidentally, Hamas appears to be justifying the concerns of Israelis living across the border.

Hamas leader in Gaza Ismail Haniyeh on Friday said that the group’s armed wing will never stop digging tunnels and upgrading rockets in preparation of any possible confrontation with Israel.

“There are heroes east of Gaza City, digging the rocks and building tunnels,” Haniyeh said at the funeral for seven Hamas terrorists killed in a tunnel collapse last week. “And west of Gaza, heroes are testing rockets every morning and every day and it is all preparations. Under the ground and above the ground, in tunnels and above the ground and into the sky, with rockets and in the sea and everywhere, it is the permanent preparation for the sake of Jerusalem and Palestine, and for the sake of the intifada of Jerusalem and the sake of our people.”

Mosques across Gaza mourned those killed, calling them “Martyrs of the Preparation,” a reference to their work digging tunnels used to attack Israel.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Saturday said he was “alarmed” by Haniyeh’s statement.

“Such statements and actions put at risk reconstruction, humanitarian and development efforts by the international community and Palestinian and Israeli authorities,” Ban said. “They also do a serious disservice to the long-suffering people of Gaza.”

Meanwhile, Israel is working to combat the threat. Several months ago, security sources said they were testing new techniques to detect hidden passages and implement them on the ground. The defense establishment, however, is keeping progress on the matter confidential.

One security source on Saturday said: “Dealing with the tunnels and then upgrading the obstacle along the Gaza border is an intensive, multi-systemic national effort, in which a large variety of resources have been invested. Regretfully, we cannot, for understandable reasons, reveal the full scope of our work to detect the tunnels and destroy them, but this work is taking place at all times.”