The US government is set to invest $120 million in developing and manufacturing the "Israeli invention" for detecting and identifying tunnels, in collaboration with the Ministry of Defense, following Congress' approval of the budget transfer. Israel is set to invest a similar amount. If there were even a shadow of doubt about the invention's efficacy, Congress would not have approved a single cent.
The US deputy minister of defense visited Israel a few weeks ago and saw the anti-tunnel project in its early stages around the Gaza Strip. Impressed, he approved $40 million to cover its first year.
The US is in need of such a system on its Mexico border and with the Americans in the picture, there is a chance that the project here will start to make progress. The injection of American money and technology will shorten the process and the system will be upgraded, meaning that it will be deployed more quickly. How much faster? That's a secret Hamas would pay a lot to find out.
It's not just residents of the Gaza envelope who can hear noises coming from the ground. Those on the other side, too, can see and hear digging work on Israel's side, planting something in the earth. From the perspective of Hamas' military wing, this represents the drums of war. They understand that when the project is completed, it will neutralize their ultimate attack weapon: tunnels.
Israel is in a race against time to complete the project and get it operating at its optimum level. The system is supposed to detect digging, or any other activity, up to a depth of dozens of meters underground.
Hamas is in its own race against time. From the organization's perspective, it's already finished its preparations for a military entanglement with Israel and is now grappling with timing. And this timing will be greatly affected by the pace of the Israeli project's progress.
Hamas is preparing a surprise attack. If they are led to believe for a moment that Israel has a solution that will bring its tunnels out into the open, it will push them to bring their attack forward. And therein lies the bad news: Two trains are speeding towards each other, and the collision is likely to take place within a few months. The IDF is already making estimates around this possibility.
A series of gestures and events over the past few weeks attest to the building concern that the next round of fighting between Israel and Hamas will arrive sooner rather than later. It started with reports, specifically in Israel, on the certainty that Hamas' tunnels have already entered Israeli territory. It's reminiscent of the articles during Operation Protective Edge which reported that there were tunnels under every Gaza border community.
Articles of this nature, that contain only part of the truth, sow panic and create among the public a sense that war is in the air. They also prompt political opportunists to call for the tunnels to be destroyed immediately. What information are they using as a basis to send the army off to the next Gaza war?
Two tunnels recently collapsed in Gaza. One of these cave-ins killed seven diggers. No one published the location of the tunnel but it was clear to all that it had penetrated Israeli territory. The hurried assertions that arose from this incident boiled down to Hamas drastically accelerating its tunnel-digging, leading to an accident.
But tunnels have been collapsing for years in Gaza – each time, in fact, that between 100 and 130 millimeters of rain has fallen all at once. The last accident embarrassed Hamas' leadership. At first they covered up the deaths and then turned the collapse into a heroic "operational accident," at which point Ismail Haniyeh gave a rare speech in which he detailed their military preparations for a war with Israel.
Netanyahu, too, isn't missing the opportunity. Herzog made a call to attack the tunnels? Netanyahu will demonstrate to him how to threaten Hamas as one ought, and create the sense that war is at the gates. Add to that a politician touring the tunnels in order to clarify that he is the one who brought the billions needed to build this obstacle to the tunnels, and not the government. Add also some Knesset members who come, get photographed and perhaps show genuine and honest concern but don't have any precise information to go on.
Hamas witnesses all of this and is convinced that Israel is getting ready to pounce. This paranoia could also lead to drawing the incorrect conclusion that some sort of military deployment – indeed, to the kind of series of mistakes that prefaced Operation Protective Edge, and brought us a 51-day war.