The IDF destroyed a large Hamas tunnel that penetrated into Israeli territory from Khan Yunis in the Gaza Strip, IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Ronen Manelis announced on Sunday.
This is the second time in some six weeks that such a discovery was made.
“Locating two terrorist tunnels in recent weeks is an operational success based on advanced technology, attesting to a rise in the level of the tools developed and used by the IDF,” he said, stressing that “the tunnel project in the Gaza Strip has suffered a heavy blow.”
According to Manelis, the IDF had been watching the progression of the tunnel, which stretched several meters into Israel even before it crossed into Israeli territory, with “unique tools combined with advanced technology, intelligence and operational capabilities.”
The tunnel was neutralized by the IDF’s Southern Command and was done without explosives that have been used previously in other tunnel demolitions.
“No one heard it, but the tunnel has been destroyed,” Manelis said, stressing that it was “a necessary defensive action to prevent harm to civilians and soldiers” and that the timing of the destruction of the tunnel was the result of operational considerations.
The destruction of the tunnel on Sunday did not lead to any deaths, Manelis said, adding that even if there were, he was “not sorry” and that Israel will continue to take all measures at its disposal to destroy any cross-border tunnel.
“I advise that any group who wants to threaten Israel to think twice,” he said. “These tunnels will be a death trap to anyone inside.”
In late October, the IDF destroyed a cross-border Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) attack tunnel, killing 12 terrorists, including two senior Islamic Jihad commanders and two Hamas members. The group threatened to retaliate against Israel for the deaths of its members, leading the IDF to deploy Iron Dome missile defense batteries in central Israel.
Two weeks ago, the group fired 12 projectiles at the IDF post and a cement factory on the northeastern edge of the Gaza Strip, where construction crews are working on Israel’s new underground barrier.
According to Manelis, while the tunnel destroyed on Sunday was discovered several weeks ago, there was no connections between the PIJ barrage and the tunnel.
The tunnel destroyed on Sunday was in advanced stages of construction and was found deeper in Israel than the tunnel belonging to PIJ which was found on the border, Manelis said. He stressed that Hamas had put significant effort into it.
There was also no connection to the tunnel to the rockets which had been fired towards Israel over the weekend and Hamas was seen by the IDF as “taking active measures to prevent further rocket fire.”
The IDF has invested extensive efforts in locating cross-border tunnels from Gaza after several soldiers were killed by Hamas terrorists during Operation Protective Edge in 2014, when they popped out of the numerous tunnels dug into Israel by the terror group.
Hamas’ tunnel infrastructure surprised the IDF and left the residents of border communities concerned of possible tunnels beneath their homes.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said on Sunday that terrorist tunnels that cross into Israeli territory are a threat which cannot be accepted and that Israel has reached new levels of technological know-how in the fight against them.
“I hope that in the coming months the tunnel threat faced by the residents of the Gaza border will become a thing of the past,” he said.
Echoing Liberman’s comments, Intelligence Minister Israel Katz said the neutralization of the tunnel “conveys a clear message that the era of the tunnel threat is nearing an end.”
Eshkol Regional Council head Gadi Yarkoni said local officials are in “constant and close contact” with the relevant military officials, who informed them about the tunnel.
“There is no change in the guidelines [to residents],” he said, adding that “Eshkol residents are experienced at facing these challenges and are an example of resilience to Israeli society.”
According to Manelis, civilian communities were not threatened at any moment by the highly advanced tunnel which was at least 1 km. from the nearest community, adding that it “is a flagrant violation of Israel’s sovereignty and cannot be accepted.”
In response to the tunnel threat, Israel has begun building a state-of-the-art underground barrier which has a system of advanced sensor and monitoring devices to detect tunnels combined with a 6 m. high above-ground smart fence.
While the IDF is confident that no tunnel will be able to cross the underground barrier, there remains a large amount of construction on the barrier which has not yet begun, including the area where the tunnel was located.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who is a member of the security cabinet, said: “Within a year or two we will topple Hamas’s leading project, the terrorist tunnels, so now is a time to be extra alert. We must also prepare for new aerial or naval threats, since Hamas is always looking to innovate.”