Sunday, June 26th | 27 Sivan 5782

July 29, 2014 1:47 pm

Neutralizing the Threat to Israel From Gaza

avatar by Albert Wachtel


IDF soldiers discover a terror tunnel. Photo: IDF.

With Iron Dome in place and many above ground terrorist sites in Gaza destroyed, tunnels– yet another technological horror Hamas owes to Iran–are the greatest threat to Israel.  As we all know too well, they serve multiple purposes.  They hide weapon making facilities, command and control offices, launchers, and are weapons themselves.  The warrens of Gaza tunnels have provided secret entrances into the Jewish state from which murder of innocents, mayhem and kidnappings could be sprung. Hamas absconded with concrete intended for schools, hospitals, homes and roads in Gaza to reinforce its tunnels, and they have served it well.

Much more significant as a threat to contemporary civilization than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s public diatribes, lies and bungling, which damaged Iran, its former president devoted his earlier professional life to tunneling.  Ahmadinejad holds an MA in civil engineering and a PhD in transportation technology.  In Iran’s rocky and varied underground terrain, tunnels were difficult to build, and they are difficult to detect.  Some were necessary for subways and for transporting water and waste. Others provided secret sites for centrifuges to produce enriched uranium, for work on rockets and triggering devices for atomic bombs and for storing the material.

Iran has shared its knowledge and technology for building such tunnels with both Hezbollah and Hamas, which have made extensive use of them. The terrain of Gaza, in the tunnels of which terrorists would love to have and manufacture Iran’s long range rockets and weapons of mass destruction, is less complicated than Iran’s. That makes both the construction and the detection of Hamas tunnels less difficult.

Getting rid of them is another matter. The IDF’s dangerous work on the ground in uncovering and vastly damaging the tunnels and hidden weapons that now exist under Gaza has been very impressive. The word dangerous is inadequate to convey the peril of those guarded, booby trapped and collapse-threatened installations. The terrorists know everything about them and can hide and shoot at Israel’s soldiers as they approach and make sure the booby traps are set for those Israelis who get through to the entrances.  The job of destroying those tunnels now on the ground is being done, but the cost is and will continue to be immense. What’s more, Hamas has nothing better to do during the years between confrontations than to construct new tunnels, new passageways to Israel and new terrorist weapons and plans like the ones Israeli troops discovered in one of the command centers for a massive attack from tunnels on this coming Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. When this phase of Israel’s work to weaken Gaza terrorists is over, more efficient and long-lasting ways of keeping terrorists out will be necessary.

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Fortunately, approaches to the problem already exist. A sewage trench along the border with Gaza is a good idea, a gift from Egypt that was tested on the Sinai side of the strip. In Israel’s case the huge expense of digging and covering the canal as well as piping in sewage from southern Israel can be reduced by the construction of a large treatment plant at the far end that will be used to transform waste into fertilizer and usable ground water. Another such construction should be made in the north, with the huge expense of building it and piping in sewage from the north offset by the construction of a treatment plant at its far end.

While all that is happening, Israel should be addressing the issue of future tunneling by terrorists. It can start as it did with regard to rocket prevention in a prelude to Iron Dome by soliciting ideas from Israelis for ways to detect tunneling. In fact, the technology for that is already quite advanced. A method of aerial detection of tunnels was being developed in 2012 in relation to the tunnels Hamas had dug into Egypt, and the U.S. has been at work on such a project as well.  In America’s case the object was to protect borders, prevent escapes from prisons and aid in discovering tunnels during foreign wars. But whatever the purpose, the necessary technology is the same. Once again, America and Israel can cooperate on developing a system that can do to tunneling what Iron Dome has done to incoming rockets. En Tech, a private firm, uses infrared pattern analysis, light detection and microwave radar for purposes related to tunnel detection. The IDF itself developed a system that Israeli daily Ma’ariv reported as having been successfully tested two years ago. All such approaches should be reviewed, updated, improved and used. The homogenous nature of the ground and the subsurface of the border between Israel and Gaza will make the presence of unusual structures like tunnels obvious to well-constructed detection equipment, and once discovered, they can be destroyed from the air.

Eliminating the threat of Hamas’s tunnels on the ground is Israel’s task for now, and it is being achieved. In the long run, developing the ability to discover and destroy them without endangering IDF troops will serve a larger purpose. Jihadi terrorists’ declared value of hatred and public embrace of jealousy, rage and murderousness cannot be eradicated, but their attempts to bring those impulses to bear on the world can and must be defeated.

Albert Wachtel is a professor at the Claremont Colleges whose editorials have been published and syndicated by the “Los Angeles Times,”,”The Wall Street Journal” and “San Francisco Chronicle,” among other newspapers. He is also the author of “Critical Insights:  James Joyce” (Salem Press, 2013).

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