Weapons recovered from a Hamas tunnel. (photo from IDF/FLICKR)
“One hundred Israeli schoolchildren killed in Hamas attack.” Israelis say this would have been just one of many similar headlines announcing untold loss of civilian life had Operation Protective Edge not been launched last month. The goal of the operation was to silence the seemingly endless barrages of Gaza rockets aimed at Israeli cities and towns, and to detect and destroy the vast network of underground tunnels dug beneath Gaza and into Israel by the Islamist Hamas terror organization.
As details of the tunnel system became public, Israelis were at once fascinated and infuriated to learn specifics of the intricate Trojan-horse-like network lurking beneath their communities; an engineering feat so potentially lethal that the national discussion is rife with unsubstantiated worries about terrorist plans for the execution of “an Israeli 9/11.”
Frequently heard were comments like, “Surely the high-tech nation should have the ability to detect tunnels!” while others ask how such an elaborate feat of engineering and construction could have proceeded right under the noses of the military in a security-savvy country with vast counter-terrorism experience.
In October 2013, Israeli army intelligence located entrances to one such tunnel just a couple of hundred metres from the entrance to Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha, a collective community in southern Israel near the border with Gaza.
On a tour of that network, standing at ground level, one can see the tunnel split in the middle, its branches extending deep into the earth, with one entrance/exit nearly a mile away – through Israeli territory and into the Gaza Strip – and the other a mere 600 metres (almost 2,000 feet) to the right: exiting into Israeli territory.
Moving closer required man- oeuvring through a steep downward 46-foot trek, assisted by the steadying hand of an IDF officer to navigate the distance from the surface to the underground passageway itself. Crawling through the deceptively small opening and out of the desert’s summer heat into the coolness of the subterranean concrete-encased structure, it was surprising to find myself standing upright, able to see far enough to sense the vast distance it covers. Though visibility was limited by the dearth of ambient light, helped only slightly by the lighting unit attached to our camera, the immense dimension of the tunnel was perceptible, the elaborate nature of the structure striking. From the sophisticated construction to the array of cables, conduits, finished ceilings, communication lines and pulley systems, it made sense that each tunnel was estimated to have required several years and millions of dollars to build – mostly by hand, with jackhammers and shovels.
Also discovered in many of the recently destroyed tunnels was a variety of weapons, army uniforms, motorcycles, chloroform and handcuffs: macabre “kidnapping kits.”
Read more at themedialine.org.