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May 8, 2016 6:26 am

Israel’s Tunnel-Detection Success Poses Hard Choice for Hamas

avatar by Yaakov Lappin

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An IDF soldier at the entrance to a Hamas tunnel. Photo: Wikipedia.

An IDF soldier at the entrance to a Hamas tunnel. Photo: Wikipedia.

In late March, the Investigative Project on Terrorism reported that pressure was building within the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, which could lead to a new round of fighting with Israel.

In recent days, violence out of Gaza has indeed escalated significantly, and the trigger has been a succession of breakthroughs in the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) ability to detect cross-border assault tunnels that threaten Israel’s south.

On Thursday morning, the IDF announced that it had found a tunnel 30 meters (98 feet) underground that reached into southern Israel, not far from where the IDF used new breakthrough technology to locate another tunnel in April.

Realizing that it is about to lose its most prized offensive weapon against Israel — the ability to inject murder squads into Israeli territory though tunnels — Hamas’ military wing has decided to do something it has not done in almost two years. It has begun a succession of cross-border mortar attacks in the vicinity, with a view to disrupting the detection work, and more importantly, to signal to Israel that Hamas is willing to risk war over its tunnel program.

Hamas’ attacks began on Tuesday with small arms fire and a mortar attack on IDF unit near southern Gaza, which was carrying out engineering tunnel detection work. It escalated on Wednesday, as units came closer to locating the tunnel, resulting in multiple mortar attacks, and Israeli retaliatory tank and air strikes.

By Thursday morning, the IDF located Hamas’ latest tunnel, effectively telling Hamas’ military wing that the days when it can dig subterranean structures under the border into Israel are drawing to a close.

Hamas persisted in mortar attacks, which at this stage appear to be missing Israeli forces deliberately, sparking yet more tank and Air Force replies by Israel.

“We view this technological, intelligence, and operational effort as a success. We can say that this tunnel is a violation of our sovereignty,” a senior IDF source said on Thursday.

According to the source, Hamas’ attempts to tell Israel to stop destroying its tunnel program are in vain. “We are determined to continue with these efforts, and understand that we must focus in these areas,” he added.

Looking ahead, two principal scenarios could unfold in the coming days and weeks. The first possibility is that Hamas’ military wing does not back down from its so-called red line, and continues to back up its call for Israel to cease tunnel-detection work with cross-border fire. In such a scenario, Israel would be hard-pressed to contain a resumption of the situation that existed in the south prior to the 2014 conflict with Hamas. A resulting security escalation would rapidly grow in scope, and the IDF would quickly have to implement plans to destroy the military wing’s offensive capabilities.

This development would result in a major new conflict, which could end with only Hamas’ political wing remaining intact, as well as the Islamist regime’s domestic police force.

Unlike previous rounds of fighting, Israel this time may be determined to destroy Hamas’s 20,000-strong military wing, including the 5,000-member Nuhba elite force (which is trained to cross into Israel via the tunnels).

In essence, Hamas needs to choose between backing down from its stance on Israel’s tunnel detection– and watching its trump card blow away, or risk the destruction of its military wing.

Should it choose the latter, it would comply with the wishes of Hamass political wing, which is less eager to provoke a military confrontation with Israel so soon after the 2014 war.

“Operation Protective Edge” was the most intensive conflict ever experienced by Hamas.

The two-month war left a deep imprint on Hamas. It challenged Hamas to a far greater extent than any previous military clash with Israel since Hamas seized power in Gaza in 2007. It was exposed to the most sustained and accurate Israeli firepower in its history, and lost more of its operatives in battle than any previous time (although it had also never achieved this level of capabilities before 2014). Hamas is still in the midst of rebuilding its rocket arsenals, rebuilding tunnels, and constructing drones, as well as assembling a naval terrorist intrusion unit. Gaza’s long suffering civilian population, under the grip of its Islamist jihadist rulers, may not wish to stomach a new war so soon.

The fact that, until now, Hamas has not fired a single projectile or bullet at Israel indicates that it understands that Israel is not prepared to seek containment as a response to ongoing cross-border fire.

These factors could be enough to deter Hamas from continuing to escalate the situation further.

The coming days will reveal which path Hamas chooses. None of its options are attractive. Ultimately, its choice is between fighting for its tunnels, and risking its existence as an Islamist fighting force, complete with brigades, battalions, and command and control capabilities, thousands of rockets, and many thousands of anti-tank missiles and RPGs — or backing down.

Yaakov Lappin is the Jerusalem Post’s military and national security affairs correspondent, and author of The Virtual Caliphate (Potomac Books), which proposes that jihadis on the internet have established a virtual Islamist state.

The opinions presented by Algemeiner bloggers are solely theirs and do not represent those of The Algemeiner, its publishers or editors. If you would like to share your views with a blog post on The Algemeiner, please be in touch through our Contact page.

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  • Louis Mielke

    The reaction to the new tunnels should be a complain lodges by Israel at the United Nations General Assembly, Security Council and Human Rights Council. A news and information campaign should be initiated by the Israeli Government on the estimated cost of the tunnels and purpose of Hamas undermining Israel sovereignty – this with the same effort as the BDS and other campaigns against Israel.

  • Lauren Goldman

    Inject flammable gas into the tunnels and ignite it. It will destroy their munitions, kill any terrorists in the tunnels and definitely locate the entrances in Gaza.

  • Stanley Tee

    Actually Hamas does have one other option – it could choose to live in peace with its neighbours (both of them). The fact that nobody even bothers to mention this possibility really tells us all we need to know about Hamas, doesn’t it?

  • Like the Washington Post, you missed a major part of what is broiling and roiling from the Gaza Strip. The raw sewage which is flowing into the Mediterranean Sea is now fouling Israel’s beaches and has closed one of Israel’s desalinization plants. This, in effect, is biological warfare; for, it may well lead to cases of dysentery and even cholera. It certainly will impact Israel’s tourism and agriculture, and will have a major effect if this sewage seeps into the ground water of the region.

  • Yoel Nitzarim

    Hamas surely knows that Israel is not willing to play games about cross border mortar attacks. The fact that Israel’s technology has made it possible to locate underground tunnels leading from Gaza into Israel and then for Israel to destroy such tunnels should be crystal clear to Hamas. Truly, Israel cannot and will not tolerate any enemy incursion into its sovereign precincts. Let’s hope that Hamas chooses to back off of any escalation due to the severity of the next round of fighting in which Israel will thoroughly incapacitate its military wing.

  • Robert Davis

    The only argument arabs understand is LOSING TERRITORY and in case of war Israe”l should EMPTY AND TAKE OVER THE NORTHERN HALF OF THE GAZA TERRITORY and push its population west on the border with egypt so next time it moçves a finger the whole polut&aion is sent out to sinai. Although sending out this population over to Sinai is the berst solution for Israel if hamas understands th message it will keep quiet for ever unfortunately.

  • Markus Elkana Brajtman

    If Hamas wants another war, that should be the last time that these bastards ever try to fight the might of IDF>

    The problem is, that the anti Semitic anti Israel world will once again call Israel “baby killers” and blame Israel” for acting like the Nazis

    Of course the 2i/c of the IDF has given the world the ammunition it needs to condemn Israel.
    Why has this General not been fired?

  • Peter Joffe

    A way must be available to monitor the exits to the tunnels so that the rats can be shot as they exit? All the terrorists in one narrow space will be an easy turkey shoot.

    • Jerry Hecht

      Better, some type of gas pumped into the tunnels to make them contaminated like skunk oil or sarin.

    • rachel slomovic

      Why not just close those tunnels with stones or maybe send down some of the sewer waste from Israeli communites?

  • The next war with Hamas must include the complete destruction of its military capacity, political wing, and domestic police force. No containment policy with Hamas, only its unconditional surrender. After Israel liberates the Hamas-occupied Gaza Strip, it must ensure stability under Israeli governance.

  • Richard H. Shulman

    Does the IDF destroy a detected terror tunnel’s portion under Israel or also its portion under Gaza?