|Truckloads of cement shipped to Gaza via Israel,|
November 25, 2014 [Image Source: Getty]
This morning (Monday), Israeli officials revealed that, about ten days ago, the IDF
had found a concrete-lined tunnel stretching hundreds of meters from Gaza into Israel, reminiscent of dozens of tunnels destroyed by the army during a 50-day war with Hamas-led fighters in 2014 launched in part to thwart the underground passages. Speaking to reporters in his Jerusalem office, Netanyahu warned Hamas against trying to harm Israeli citizens and vowed that Jerusalem will continue to invest heavily in mechanisms to detect tunnels dug from Gaza into Israel. “The government is investing a fortune in thwarting the threat of tunnels. This is an ongoing effort; it does not end overnight; we are investing in it and will continue to invest steadily and firmly,” he said. [Times of Israel, April 18, 2016](And a second tunnel discovery may be on the way.)
For Israelis, this is a major story: concrete proof of where the Islamists of Hamas are focusing efforts; validation for the restrictions imposed lately on cement shipments into Gaza; a taste of what might be around the corner this summer; and a sign that the exceptionally thorny matter of how you detect an enemy's attack-tunnels might have a technological solution.
The IDF is still not saying whether the tunnel was destroyed, sealed off or preserved, and the military censor is making efforts to ensure its location remains a secret, Times of Israel speculates today that wherever it is, there's no sign that the tunnel emerged inside the Israeli communities closest to the southern Gaza Strip, namely Holit or Sufa. It must be seriously long.
The Guardian ["Israeli military uncovers first Hamas tunnel into Israel since 2014 war", April 18, 2016] says the tunnel runs some 30-40 metres below the surface of the ground, and is equipped with rails to facilitate further excavation, concrete-slab walls, communication lines and air supply. It quotes an IDF spokesperson saying it extends several hundred metres into, and under, Israel and is large enough for a person to stand upright.
Signs of an impending tunnel discovery (or two) have been around for the past month, There were reports during March of Israeli bulldozers barreling into Gaza near the southern city of Rafah and taking up positions on the Hamas side of the border, leading to unsubstantiated speculation that a tunnel or two had been found. An Iranian news report on March 19, 2016 sticks to megaphoning the misery of Gaza's teeming masses without any hint of where the cement that is being withheld from Gazan home-builders is actually going:
Israeli bulldozers and military vehicles have reportedly intruded into the Palestinian border town of Rafah in the blockaded Gaza Strip, locals say. Witnesses said four bulldozers and vehicles belonging to the Israeli military conducted an incursion into the southern town in Gaza, where Egyptian forces demolished over 1,000 homes earlier this week to create a so-called buffer zone. Egyptian officials said Tuesday that the country’s military had razed to the ground at least 1,020 homes in Rafah, near the border with southern Gaza Strip, in the second phase of an operation to create a buffer zone with the Israeli-besieged territory... The Gaza Strip has been under Israel’s blockade since June 2007. The blockade has caused a decline in the standard of living as well as unprecedented levels of unemployment, and unrelenting poverty. [PressTV - Iran, March 19, 2016]Then just four days ago, another IDF entry into Gaza was reported ["Israeli bulldozers, accompanied by drones, level land in Gaza"] by Ma'an News Agency
Several Israeli bulldozers entered into the southern Gaza Strip early Thursday and leveled land near the borderline, locals said. Witnesses told Ma'an that four Israeli military bulldozers entered dozens of meters into the eastern Rafah district and leveled lands near the border fence. They added that Israeli drones were flying above the area at the time. No shooting was reported.Naturally, the people from OCHA maintain a long-standing UN tradition of seeing no evil, hearing no evil and reporting no evil even as massive attack-tunnel construction - and cement pilfering by Hamas officials - goes on month after month right under their noses.
An Israeli army spokesperson said they were looking into the reports.
Locals have reported incursions into the Rafah district by Israeli bulldozers and drones on a near-daily basis in the past ten days... The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported at least 30 incidents of Israeli military forces opening fire in the "buffer zone" in the first week of April alone, in two cases injuring Palestinians were were as far as 350 meters away from the border... [Ma'an, April 14, 2016]
The Guardian skips the part about how Hamas operatives in Gaza seize construction materials and cement before they reach the hands of those building replacement homes for the thousands destroyed in the summer 2014 war with Israel. It is a little less shy about Hamas' attack tunnel agenda:
Hamas has made no bones about its ambition to construct offensive tunnels. Its leader, Ismail Haniyeh, recently told a rally of supporters inside Gaza: “Our message to the prisoners is a message inked in blood. The rifle and the tunnel are our commitment...”Other media channels, mainly Israeli of course, don't share The Guardian's pickiness. See "Accusing Hamas of Pilfering, Israel Halts Cement Deliveries to Gaza" [Haaretz, April 4, 2016]. And this telling quotation from a UN official in a Times of Israel news report of the same date:
[A] senior Israeli commander said Hamas was intensifying its tunnel-digging efforts. “Hamas is digging tunnels for purposes of offence and defence,” a senior Southern Command officer said, noting that efforts to dig underground paths into Israel began before the 2014 Gaza hostilities and continued afterwards. “The working assumption is that other invading tunnels exist. We are active anywhere there is such concern,” they said. The issue of new Hamas tunnel-digging activities came under renewed scrutiny after Christmas when residents in Israeli communities on the Gaza border said they believed they had heard the sounds of what they thought was digging. [The Guardian, April 18, 2016]
The United Nations also condemned the “deviation of materials” in a statement released on Monday, but refrained from naming Hamas as responsible. “Those who seek to gain through the deviation of materials are stealing from their own people and adding to the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza,” said Nickolay Mladenov, the UN’s special coordinator for the Middle East peace process. “The people of Gaza depend on the entry of construction material to repair and reconstruct their damaged and destroyed houses following the 2014 conflict and to enable much-needed infrastructure and development projects,” Mladenov said, referring to the devastating 50-day war fought between Israel and Hamas in summer 2014. This freeze is not intended to be enduring, and will only remain in place until the issue can be more thoroughly explored, a COGAT spokesperson told The Times of Israel... ["Israel halts cement to Gaza, to keep it out of Hamas’s hands", Times of Israel, April 4, 2016]There's also some excellent background in an analysis piece by Liel Leibovitz ["Some concrete facts about Hamas | Guess how many skyscrapers the terror organization could’ve built instead of tunnels", The Tablet, July 23, 2014] penned right after the Hamas catastrophe of two summers ago.