As Israel continues its advances in northern Gaza, its Defense Forces have vowed to destroy Hamas’ 300-mile tunnel system, the key transportation route for the terrorist group.
Known as the Gaza Metro, the tunnel system lies beneath the Palestinian enclave with countless entrances and exits at schools, hospitals, mosques and civilian homes.
Several entrance doors are even believed to be at al-Shifa Hospital, Gaza’s main medical center that also serves as a shelter for displaced Palestinians, a claim Hamas has denied.
The tunnels are a major blind spot for Israel, where Hamas fighters can engage in guerrilla warfare and avoid Israeli airstrikes in shafts that go up to 130 feet deep.
The tunnels are also the ideal route to transport weapons and hostages.
Israel’s last major assault on the underground system came in 2014, during Operation Protective Edge, when IDF soldiers fought with Hamas for 50 days while inspecting the underground network.
Hamas operates a 300-mile network of tunnels beneath Gaza known as the “Gaza Metro.” REUTERS The dark and narrow hallways serve as the terrorist group’s biggest advantage against Israeli fighters. AFP via Getty Images
Units within the IDF have since received extensive training to fight in the narrow tunnels, but experts fear that Hamas still has the advantage in an underground battlefield likely riddled with booby traps.
The existence of vast tunnels running beneath Gaza was first reported in 2006, and were primarily used as a means of circumventing Israel’s blockade after Hamas was elected to power.
The tunnels were intended to smuggle food and other necessities to the more than 2 million Palestinians living in the enclave, but Hamas quickly took control of the passages and began expanding them over the years for military purposes.
The IDF has previously taken journalists on tours of tunnels they have captured, showing them as sophisticated structures with concrete walls and electricity, yet wide enough for cars to travel through, the Washington Post reported.
Several entrances to Hamas tunnels are known to be located around hospitals, mosques, schools and public service stations, effectively using civilian structures as shields. Israel Defense Forces tunnels allow Hamas terrorists to transport weapons through Gaza, as the passages also have lighting and enough space for cars and small vehicles to pass. IDF/X
However, for the uninitiated, traveling through the tunnels can feel claustrophobic, as many hallways are only a few meters high and lack lighting.
In these confined spaces, veteran Hamas fighters would have the advantage over IDF soldiers, who would likely face an onslaught of booby traps first.
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Near the beginning of the war against Hamas, Bruce Hoffman, an expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, warned of the dangers posed by the tunnels, noting that they are likely where Hamas is holding the 239 hostages.
“These locations and perhaps even the hostages themselves are likely to be booby-trapped,” Hoffman wrote in a sobering report. “This is a challenge of a magnitude that has never been faced before.”
Israel last fought in the tunnels during Operation Protective Edge in 2014. Getty Images
Colin P. Clarke, conflict and terrorism specialist at the Soufan Group, echoed that Israel faces an uphill battle within the “Gaza Metro” tunnel system.
“Anytime you’re dealing with an underground network of tunnels, it becomes extremely complex,” the expert told iNews. “Hamas will have been preparing for an intervention by the Israel Defense Forces. [IDF] ground assault and see these tunnels inside out.
“Some of them are probably booby-trapped,” Clarke added. “Preparing to fight in such terrain is incredibly difficult and would require extensive intelligence about what the tunnel network is like, something the Israelis may not have.”
What is Israel’s strategy to eliminate Hamas terrorist tunnels?
During the 2014 conflict, Israel was able to map several entrances and exits to the Gaza Metro, identifying underground bases that housed weapons and fighters.
Dr. Daphné Richemond Barak, a professor at Israel’s Lauder School of Government and an expert on underground warfare, said that since 2014, the IDF has been training on how to conduct underground battles in the identified tunnels.
“The IDF also used simulators where you put on these virtual reality goggles, which then took you inside the virtual tunnel,” he told CNN of the intensive training.
Some of Hamas’ tunnels are up to 130 feet deep, allowing fighters to dodge Israeli airstrikes. IDF/X
Israeli soldiers could also turn the tunnels into a major liability for Hamas by employing a new weapon called “sponge bombs.”
The new bombs consist of chemical compounds that expand and harden rapidly when dropped, allowing Israeli soldiers to seal the tunnel passages.
The device would reportedly leave Hamas fighters with no escape and allow Israeli commandos to secure safe routes while searching for hostages.
An Israeli soldier walks inside a Hamas tunnel along the Gaza border that was taken in 2018.AP
Barak added that Israel could probably also attack the tunnels with high-pressure water systems, which would “cause the collapse of the tunnel structures.”
It is still unclear what method the IDF is using to destroy the terrorist tunnels, which have been the site of recent ground attacks in northern Gaza, where the Israeli army has announced that more than 600 Hamas targets have been neutralized in recent years. days.
When one mission successfully rescued a captured IDF fighter, the Israeli military reiterated that the key to victory would be the dismantling of the Gaza Metro.
“Destroying Hamas means destroying its network of terrorist tunnels,” the Israeli military said in a statement on Sunday.