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Israel Has Just Destroyed the First Hamas Tunnel Discovered Since the 2014 War

This tunnel — equipped with an air supply system, electricity, and a rail track designed to excavate rubble — was destroyed by the IDF. But the military believe that there are probably more.

by Harriet Salem
Apr 18 2016, 3:05pm

Imagen por Jim Hollander/EPA

Israel's army announced on Monday that it has destroyed a tunnel built by Palestinian militants that stretched hundreds of meters across the country's border with Gaza, the first to be discovered since the end of the 2014 war.

According to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), the tunnel was at least 30 meters (98 feet) deep, lined with concrete slabs, and equipped with communication lines, an air supply system, electricity, and a rail track designed to excavate rubble.

Speaking at a military briefing, IDF spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner told reporters that there was sufficient space inside the tunnel for a "grown man with weapons to stand or charge or run or hide."

A video released by the army shows soldiers using heavy equipment, including bulldozers and borehole drills in the sandy desert earth of the Gaza border area, as well as short clip of footage shot inside the tunnel.

Underground warfare is tactic long favoured by Palestinian militant groups in Gaza, who are heavily outgunned by the Israeli military.

In 2006 two Israeli soldiers were killed by militants who emerged from a tunnel near Kerem Shalom kibbutz. A third soldier, Gilad Shalit, was kidnapped and held captive for five years before being exchanged for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails.

More recently during "Operation Protective Edge," the Israeli codename given to the 2014 war with Palestinian militant group Hamas, four separate attacks were launched on Israeli army positions via underground networks killing 12 soldiers.

Although Israel said it had destroyed some 32 tunnels by the end of the last war, Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of Hamas in Gaza, bragged earlier this year that efforts were underway to restore the network and claimed that Palestinian militants had built twice the number of tunnels as Viet Cong guerrillas did during their 19-year war with the US in Vietnam.

Related: Hamas Says It Captured An Israeli Spy Dolphin

Concerns over attacks via tunnels mounted earlier this year after several Israelis living close to the border claimed they could hear digging beneath their homes.

"The working assumption is that Hamas is building more tunnels, they've boasted about this infrastructure as a strategic plan of theirs, and we have to work on the assumption," said Lerner. "We have to be cautious, we're proceeding in looking for additional tunnels... [and there are] probably more tunnels that we need to expose."

In response to the latest discovery Moshe Yaalon, Israel's defense minister, said that Israel was not seeking a conflict but would strike a "very strong blow" if Hamas were to further "provoke" or "disrupt" border communities.

In a bid to counter the threat posed by tunnels Israel has recently stepped up longstanding efforts to develop technology which would help detect the underground networks earlier on.

Related: The Race Is On For Israel To Finalize Its Tunnel Fighting Technology

Dubbed the "Underground Iron Dome" — a nod to the Israeli missile defence system installed in 2012 that has destroyed near 90 percent of rockets and missiles fired from Gaza — the technology is expected to use sensors to gather information beneath the ground that will then be analyzed by algorithms.

However it is not yet clear when the tunnel detection system, which is thought to have undergone trials in a unused sewer in Tel Aviv last year, will be launched. Previous attempts to develop the technology were shelved in 2005 and 2006 after failed test runs.

Additionally Israel announced last month it was suspending all shipments of cement to private developers working in Gaza due to concerns that Hamas' Ministry of Economy was stealing the building supply for use in constructing tunnels.

Commenting on the latest discovery, Sharon Kalderon, a resident of Kibbutz Sufa close to the Gaza border, said that the community was concerned that there were more undiscovered tunnels. "You never know where the next attack will come from," she told reporters. "From the sky or from the ground."