The Story behind the Tunnel: The IDF and Hamas are Trying to Prevent a War

Since the conclusion of Operation Protective Edge, the issue of attack tunnels has remained a top priority among decision-makers in Israel. A special column by Amir Rapaport following the discovery of the tunnel near Kerem Shalom

The operation to uncover the tunnel near Kerem Shalom (Photo: IDF)

The untold story behind the recently uncovered Hamas tunnel near the Israeli community of Kerem Shalom is no less interesting than the minute details on the tunnel itself, which by now are known to all. During the past few weeks, a great effort was made in order to prevent an all-out war with Hamas.

Let us begin with what is known: The tunnel found near Kerem Shalom was restored last year, and is probably part of the network of tunnels that was dug prior to Operation Protective Edge. The construction method of the tunnel has improved, and now includes thicker concrete revetments that will prevent a collapse from explosions or infiltration of rainwater. The very fact that Hamas has invested considerable effort in building tunnels is well known and understandable – tunnels are a strategic achievement in the conflict with Israel, and Hamas is preparing for the next round of fighting since the last round ended.

Since Operation Protective Edge, Hamas lost the logistical infrastructure it had during the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Most of the tunnels used by Hamas during Operation Protective Edge were dug in this period. Despite the difficulty, the digging rate remains very high. Thousands of Gaza residents are engaged in the digging work. No less than 15 of them were killed in recent months as a result of collapsed tunnels while working (primarily due to the heavy rains this year in the South of Israel).

For its part, Israel views the challenge posed by tunnels as the highest priority since the conclusion of Operation Protective Edge. Every single idea is considered by the defense establishment. Hundreds of millions have been invested in various technology projects to locate and "handle" tunnels. Billions more will be spent. The engineers who deal with the various developments deserve the highest of compliments, and yet it seems that intelligence still has an important role to play. Also, a little luck always helps.

And now to what is less known: In recent weeks, tremendous tension prevailed in Southern Israel. There is a great fear that a war will outbreak due to a "misunderstanding". As we recall, Operation Protective Edge also stemmed from a chain of misunderstandings between Israel and Hamas, which began when Israel bombed a tunnel opening it discovered not far from Kerem Shalom.

The assumption is that Hamas is preparing continuously for the next round of fighting, but it has no interest in initiating hostilities now. The same is true for the IDF. We can assume that the IDF has been operating recently on both sides of the border with the Gaza Strip and not only on the Israeli side. According to various reports, a senior commander of the Gaza tunnel division has defected to Israel. If this publication is accurate, he may be able to provide new details which were unknown to the IDF and ISA about what is happening under the Gaza Strip.

Meanwhile, the aim of the briefings given to the media in recent days, including the one given by GOC Southern Command, is to send a message that the IDF is "in control" and is not interested in a new round of fighting. Similar messages were also conveyed through many other channels, which cannot be specified. Even Hamas has signaled that it is not interested in a confrontation for the time being.

After the publication yesterday about the tunnel discovery, we can expect that the coming weeks will bring some quiet to the region, until the time when new tensions might lead to war. But in the same breath we must remember that each discovered tunnel proves that despite the huge financial investment, IDF and ISA are not yet familiar with all the underground tunnels beneath the surface in the Gaza Strip or the ones leading into Israeli territory. The effort of both parties will continue. This is a non-stop effort, which the events of the last days gave only a fleeting glimpse at.

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