Dr. Aaron Lerner - IMRA: Before we break out the champagne let's not forget
that Hamas probably knows how deep the $13,000 a foot wall runs and it
remains unclear how many meters Hamas has to dig below the wall to avoid
detection by the sensors. Question: is Hamas really spending such a huge
part of its budget on tunnels only to facilitate operations of "murder
squads into Israeli territory through the tunnels"? Given the location of
the Gaza Strip, trained Palestinian teams emerging undetected from tunnels
could do magnitudes greater damage to Israel than murdering some Israelis.
The IDF’s Gaza Wall Might Change Hamas Strategy
By Yaakov Lappin
BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 612, October 13, 2017
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Time may be running out for one of Hamas’s main weapons
against Israel: its cross-border terror tunnels. As Hamas loses its potency
against Israel in Gaza, it is turning its attention to fanning the flames of
terrorism in the West Bank.
According to Israel Defense Forces (IDF) assessments, Israel will complete
an underground wall stretching along the 60-kilometer (37-mile) border with
Gaza by 2019. The wall is the product of several years of research and
development, and is designed to eliminate the tunnel threat to Israeli
communities located near Gaza.
During the past three years, since the end of its last conflict with Israel,
Hamas has invested major resources into its tunnel maze. One of its top
goals is to rehabilitate an ability to inject murder squads into Israeli
territory through the tunnels. Once inside Israel, they could target IDF
soldiers and Israeli civilians for murder or kidnapping whenever the next
conflict breaks out.
But Israel has invested far more than Hamas has in trying to eliminate that
threat. It is paying 150 million shekels ($42.5 million) for each kilometer
of the new wall.
Work began on the subterranean project in areas where Israeli communities
are very close to the border. Then, gradually, other areas began receiving
During a conference call with reporters in August, the commander of the IDF’s
Southern Command, Maj.-Gen. Eyal Zamir, said the wall would prevent “the
digging of tunnels into our territory,” adding that work was “advancing
according to plan. In the coming months, this project is going to
significantly accelerate. We will see an expansion in the scope of the
works. Within two years, we will be able to complete work.”
Many details about the wall remain classified, but IDF sources have
indicated that it will contain electronic sensors. These sensors will issue
alerts to military control centers, sounding the alarm about suspicious
tunnel-digging activity. The control rooms, would, in turn, be able to order
action if necessary.
Similar military control rooms are popping up along the Gaza border to
handle intelligence coming in from Israel’s above-ground border fence.
Sensors installed on the barrier, together with units from the IDF’s Combat
Intelligence Collection Corps, are joined by drones, spy balloons, and
radars, all of which feed the control centers with a flow of data and alert
them to suspicious activity.
The big question now is whether Hamas will sit back and watch Israel take
away its offensive tunnel option or whether it will feel cornered and strike
out, risking a new conflict.
Hamas’s military wing, the Izzadin al-Qassam Brigades, issued a statement
earlier this month saying the underground wall “will not limit the ability
of the resistance” and vowing to “find the solutions needed to overcome it.”
But Ely Karmon, a senior research scholar at the International Institute for
Counter-Terrorism in Herzliya, Israel, told the Investigative Project on
Terrorism that Hamas is unlikely to launch attacks in response to Israel’s
wall. “They cannot initiate a military maneuver now. The timing is bad for
them,” Karmon said, citing Hamas’s financial woes. Its troubles are made
worse by the fact that Qatar, under US pressure, is cutting off cash flow to
the Gaza Strip.
Hamas wants to engage Egypt to improve its isolation and find a way out of
its financial crisis. It just opened an office in Cairo. It cannot depend on
friends like Turkey, which has a limited ability to provide assistance,
Karmon said. “Beyond that, Hamas is under pressure from the Palestinian
Authority. A new military clash with Israel will harm them,” he added.
During his remarks, Maj.-Gen. Zamir said the “Gaza arena is stable,” adding,
“We have identified that Hamas remains deterred, and that it is restraining
many attacks [by smaller Palestinian armed factions].” At the same time, he
said, Hamas was fanning the flames of terrorism to spread in the West Bank.
It was orchestrating terror cells remotely as it prepared itself for future
war in Gaza.
That assessment was echoed by Karmon, who said Hamas is likely to respond to
Israel’s improved position against the tunnels in Gaza by upping attempts to
generate terrorism from the West Bank.
Karmon suggested that Hamas, together with Tehran, could try to smuggle
rockets into the West Bank, citing a directive by Iran’s Supreme Leader
Ayatollah Khamenei to assist West Bank terrorist cells. “The Iranians
understand that Hamas is deterred in Gaza, and limited in what it can do,”
Karmon cited information unveiled by the chief of Israel’s domestic
intelligence agency, the Shin Bet, in recent days, which told the government
that about 200 terror attacks have been thwarted so far in 2017. “Most of
the big attacks [that were stopped by the Shin Bet] were organized by Hamas,
not Fatah,” Karmon said. “Hamas’s whole campaign is focused on the West
Bank, and includes using clans that support Hamas and distributing
propaganda for violent incitement. They are neutralized in Gaza and are
trying to heat up the West Bank.”
Meanwhile, back in Gaza, Hamas continues to neglect the basic needs of the
2 million Palestinians over whom it rules. According to the chief of the IDF’s
Southern Command, Hamas remains focused on its quiet military build-up,
“Many resources in Gaza are going to the Hamas military wing. They could be
used instead to improve the humanitarian situation,” Zamir said. “We
continue to prepare. Reality is explosive. It could deteriorate into a
conflict at any time.”
In addition to offensive tunnels, Hamas has built a maze of tunnels
underneath Gaza City. Zamir described them as “an underground metro network”
designed to move Hamas armed members, weapons, and logistics out of Israel’s
Israel’s Southern Command is watching these activities closely. It is
preparing a range of solutions designed to enable Israel to turn Hamas’s
underground city into a death trap if a new conflict begins.
The IDF’s Southern Command recently sent out images of civilian facilities
in Gaza that Hamas uses as cover for military-terrorist activities. One
image is of a six-story residential building near which Hamas built an
underground facility, according to the military. Another is of a home
containing a family with five children that is linked to a tunnel leading to
a mosque. That tunnel enables Hamas terrorists to move underground and use
human shields in the process.
This type of activity “endangers the civilians of Gaza,” Zamir cautioned.
“We hope that this quiet will continue, but we are continuing to prepare,
and are on high alert.”
An earlier version of this article was originally published by The
Investigative Project on Terrorism.
Yaakov Lappin is a Research Associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for
Strategic Studies. He specializes in Israel’s defense establishment,
military affairs, and the Middle Eastern strategic environment.
BESA Center Perspectives Papers are published through the generosity of the
Greg Rosshandler Family