Cleared for Publication: Hamas terror tunnel discovered from Gaza into Israel

The IDF detected a deep Hamas cross-border terror tunnel in recent days, stretching from the southern Gaza Strip into Israel. The discovery of the tunnel was kept under a media ban until Monday morning.

The tunnel is 30 meters deep, and was likely dug after the 2014 Operation Protective Edge, according to IDF assessments, though this has not been fully verified.

A senior security source said a “systematic, intelligence-based, technological, engineering, and operational” approach resulted in the finding of the tunnel. “We have to turn this event, of finding a tunnel, into a technique, and find more tunnels,” he added.

“The challenge is very big. The tunnels are very deep. We have capabilities that do not exist anywhere else in the world. We can detect, at depths of 30 to 40 meters,” the source said. “It is a very complex process.” He declined to discuss the technological detection techniques, which remain classified, saying only that “we have developed all sorts of capabilities in recent years, and they have reached the fruition stage.” According to defense sources, prior to Operation Protective Edge, the defense establishment was able to find tunnels through randomly drilling holes next to each other along the Gaza border.

“This [the discovery] was not random, but the result of a pattern. It is a technique that identified their tunnel,” the source added.

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A second defense source said Israel is “in a different place” compared to where it was prior to the 2014 conflict when it came to finding tunnels.

The Israeli defense establishment assesses that Hamas is digging several additional attack tunnels, and that these have likely come to within a few meters of the border, but have not yet crossed it yet.

Diggers could be ordered to tunnel under the Israeli border when an escalation looks imminent. With Israel’s new detection capabilities in place, however, it remains unclear how worthwhile it is for Hamas to continue to invest millions of shekels and hire thousands of diggers for its tunnel networks.

The IDF’s Gaza Division, which belongs to the Southern Command, has placed counter-tunnel measures – detecting and destroying them – as its number one priority in 2016. Many units, some of them technical, have been engaged in overt and covert capabilities as part of the effort.

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“The tunnels are a very serious threat,” the source said, though he added that it “is not a strategic threat.” “In this case, we proved our ability to identify a deep space and to strike it. We know how to strike it, and this is a huge challenge,” he added.

He described a process that fused intelligence, engineering, and operational capabilities to locate and destroy the subterranean threat from Gaza. “If we can do this, detect and destroy them, and achieve it without reaching an escalation, that is our set mission. If this does lead to an escalation, it will not deter us either,” the source said.

“Or enemy is sophisticated. Hamas is not a group of idiots,” the officer warned. “Hamas draws lessons.” He added that the IDF is “always operating under the severe assumption that there are more intrusive tunnels out there.” The latest tunnel is similar to the “family of tunnels” the IDF exposed in Operation Protective Edge, the officer said.

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