Life in the Gaza Strip is conducted above and below ground. The phenomenon of smuggling tunnels in Rafah is well-known, and it is also known that there are tunnels in Gaza
for military use, leading to different locations, but this information was and is on a need-to-know basis, hidden just outside of the public view.
The tunnels serve several purposes: As hiding places for terrorists, as storage locations for weapons and basic supplies, and as a place for long stays in times of emergency. They are camouflaged for deception during combat and ready for service in the scenario of an Israeli ground invasion. In recent years, some of the tunnels were converted for use as hidden rocket launchers.
When necessary, a window opens and the launcher emerges, returning immediately inside its camouflaged window after shooting.
The conversion of tunnels for rocket launching began soon after the lessons of Operation Cast Lead were realized by senior military elements in Gaza. They understood that rocket launchers had become very easy targets for the IDF, due to Israel's technological superiority.
Initially, they tried firing from populated areas, inside schools and even cemeteries, but relatively precise counterterrorism efforts demanded they find another solution. The conversion of tunnels provided places for hiding and harboring terrorists, and made the firing of rockets more efficient, especially during Operation Pillar of Defense.
As launch locations spread throughout the Gaza Strip, an intricate underground network was created. In between the tunnels are large gaps, intended to preserve the ability of terrorists to fire rockets after an IDF attack, even if one tunnel is hit. According to sources in Gaza, this method of managing shooting locations proved itself during Pillar of Defense, when there were no fatalities of men in the launch pits.
The person responsible for the launch, in fact, is the same person who digs the tunnel,
and he acts according to the decisions of his commanders.
The Gaza tunnel project is organized, well thought out and does not allow for independent operators to get into the act. All tunnels are coordinated among the various military wings and include their registration. The paths of the tunnels and methods of entry are recorded and tracked.
The tunnels are divided into four districts: North, Gaza City,
Central and South. In event of a ground invasion, the head of each sub-district, along with his counterparts, is responsible for defining boundaries of activity. Leading each tunnel is a single person. In order to ensure confidentiality, the tunnel leader's name is kept secret, as is the tunnel route. Only the tunnel’s diggers and those responsible for the sub-district know this information.
All military factions in Gaza may dig a tunnel, but only after coordination with the responsible district. The average excavation
lasts about four months, and most are dug by hand at night. Each tunnel is accurately calculated.
The military factions have agreed that that all of Gaza is legitimate ground for digging of tunnels for military purposes. When a tunnel is dug near the border fence, those responsible for its planning inform the landowner, according to security considerations, emphasizing to him the inherent separations: Everything above ground belongs to the landowner; everything below ground is the responsibility of the military faction.
The excavation also includes financial compensation if necessary. Compartmentalization of information continues under all phases of the tunnel’s creation, thus, while some landowners know that there is a tunnel under their land, they do not know its course.