Amidst the escalating conflict between Israel and Hamas, a formidable adversary lies deep beneath the surface – a sprawling network of tunnels.
Hamas has constructed an extensive labyrinth of underground passages throughout the densely populated Gaza Strip, concealing fighters, rockets, and more than 200 hostages taken during an unprecedented attack on Israel in October.
The eradication of these tunnels is crucial if Israel aims to dismantle Hamas. However, engaging in combat within densely populated urban areas and underground hideaways threatens to diminish some of Israel’s technological advantages while endowing Hamas with the upper hand both above and below ground.
Tunnel warfare has a historical legacy, from the Roman siege of ancient Greek cities to Ukrainian fighters defending against Russian forces in Soviet-era tunnels beneath Mariupol’s Azovstal Iron and Steel Works in 2022.
The inherent challenge in tunnel warfare lies in the ability of a determined enemy to dictate the time and location of engagements, providing ample opportunities for ambushes.
This challenge is particularly pronounced in the Gaza Strip, where Hamas has developed an intricate tunnel system known as the “Metro” by Israel.
The militant group expanded its tunnel network to smuggle weapons and contraband from Egypt when Israel and Egypt imposed a blockade on Gaza after Hamas took control of the territory in 2007.
Although Egypt closed most of these cross-border tunnels, Hamas is believed to maintain an extensive underground network that crisscrosses Gaza, enabling the clandestine transportation of weapons, supplies, and fighters beyond the reach of Israeli surveillance.
Israel’s Battle Against Hamas’ Hidden Tunnels
Yehiyeh Sinwar, Hamas’ political leader, claimed in 2021 that the organization had 500 kilometers (310 miles) of tunnels, a staggering network considering the relatively small size of the Gaza Strip, which is only about 360 square kilometers (140 square miles).
Israel recognized this threat as far back as 2001 when Hamas used a tunnel to detonate explosives beneath an Israeli border post. Since 2004, the Israeli military’s “Samur” detachment has been dedicated to locating and destroying tunnels, sometimes utilizing remote-controlled robots.
These tunnels demand specially trained personnel who carry oxygen, masks, and other equipment when entering.
While Israel has employed airstrikes and ground-based explosives to target tunnels, dislodging Hamas necessitates clearing the tunnels, as militants can emerge behind advancing Israeli troops.
The danger posed by these tunnels was starkly evident during the 2014 conflict when Hamas militants infiltrated Israel through tunnels, resulting in the deaths of at least 11 Israeli soldiers.
In a separate incident, an Israeli officer, Lt. Hadar Goldin, was abducted into a tunnel inside Gaza and killed. Hamas has retained Goldin’s remains since that time.
As the conflict intensifies, the subterranean battleground in Gaza underscores the formidable challenges faced by both Israel and Hamas, with tunnels serving as a complex and deadly facet of the ongoing struggle.
Source: AP News