Security officials said to suggest Hamas using calm period to procure advanced weaponry; military’s Southern Command holds drill simulating tunnel warfare in next conflict
By TOI staff5 Mar 2021, 11:35 am
After four years of work, the Israel Defense Forces has completed the sophisticated new underground barrier on the Gaza border which is used to detect and prevent tunnel-digging by terror groups into Israeli territory.
The official completion of the underground barrier took place last week.
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The barrier is essentially a thick concrete wall going dozens of meters underground and lined with sensors meant to pick up any digging activity.
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In October the barrier thwarted its first tunnel according to the military. It had penetrated dozens of meters into Israeli territory but remained on the Gazan side of the underground barrier around the Strip.
This photo provided by the Israel Defense Forces on October 20, 2020, shows a soldier operating along the border with the southern Gaza Strip, after a tunnel within Israeli territory was found in the area. (Israel Defense Forces)
It marked the 20th tunnel attempted by Gaza terrorists that has been thwarted since the 2014 Gaza war, during which the IDF destroyed some 30 tunnels that had penetrated into Israel, the military’s spokesperson said.
Additional fortifications are still undergoing construction, like the 20-foot-high fence that will extend 65 kilometers (40 miles) miles around the enclave and sit atop the subterranean concrete wall. That barrier is some 80 percent complete.
The barrier project is expected to cost approximately NIS 3 billion ($833 million), with each kilometer of the underground portion of the barrier costing approximately NIS 41.5 million ($11.5 million). The above-ground fence is significantly cheaper, at just NIS 1.5 million ($416,000) per kilometer.
The new fence surrounding the Gaza Strip is being constructed within Israeli territory, a few dozen meters east of the current lower, more easily penetrable fencing. The old barrier will not be removed.
Israel constructs an above-ground barrier around Gaza Strip, aimed at preventing infiltration by terrorists, in February 2019. (Defense Ministry)
Meanwhile, according to Kan News, Israel’s security establishment assesses Hamas is currently taking advantage of the relative calm to train for future conflict with Israel and procure more advanced weapons.
Last Monday, the Israel Defense Forces said it uncovered a “potential threat” to naval ships off the Gaza coast, without elaborating on the nature of the threat.
“IDF troops detected the activity and thwarted it,” the military added.
Channel 12 News later said the threat was a Hamas naval vessel posing as a fishing boat. The network’s military correspondent reported that many of the details of the incident were banned from publication by the military censor, but the Hamas boat was destroyed and sunk by a missile fired by Israeli forces.
The Israeli military has repeatedly warned that the Hamas terror group, the de facto ruler of Gaza, as well as other terrorist organizations in the Strip, have been developing a number of different maritime-based weapons, including naval mines, explosives-laden kamikaze boats, and autonomous submarines.
At the same time, the IDF’s Southern Command completed a series of drills this week to prepare commanders for the next wide-scale conflict with Gaza.
In this image provided by the IDF, soldiers are seen conducting an urban-area drill during February in southern Israel in preparation for the next wide-scale conflict with Gaza. (Israel Defense Forces spokesperson)
During the exercises, officers trained inside mock tunnels and practiced preventing potential kidnappings of soldiers.
A senior Israeli military commander said in February that, according to IDF estimates, Hamas has replenished its arsenal since a 2014 war with Israel and now has a vast stock of rockets, guided missiles, and drones.
It also has acquired dozens of unmanned aerial vehicles and has an army of some 30,000 fighters, including 400 naval commandos who have received sophisticated training and equipment to carry out seaborne operations, the commander added. He spoke on condition of anonymity under military guidelines.