After more than a decade of attempts to find innovative ways of neutralizing the threat of terror tunnels dug by Hamas and other terror groups from Gaza into Israeli territory, after a series of clandestine experiments, all at the cost of billions of shekels, Israel may have finally found a solution that will enable its southern residents to sleep better at night.
The tunnel dug by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) that on Monday was exploded by the IDF had no exit point in Israel, even though it penetrated the border into its territory.
Just one kilometer of digging is all it took for the militants to infiltrate tens of meters into Israeli territory near the border over the last few months, hoping they would not be detected.
Palestinian tunnel workers using giant jackhammers, masses of cement and dozens of trucks operated near the border fence with Gaza, near the South Gaza city of Khan Yunis—where the Gaza obstacle project has yet to reach, as parts of the underground anti-tunnel smart barrier have been built mainly in more threatened areas in the northern Gaza Strip.
IDF engineering forces worked from time to time in direct line of the tunnel diggers who were killed Monday, but on a small scale and at a much lower frequency and narrower breadth than them. It is doubtful that those terrorists who were digging could ever have known their fate.
The IDF installed new technology on the Gaza border, which recently alerted the forces in the sector that a tunnel is being dug underground—and crossed the border into Israel.
The technology, which was developed by an Israeli company and is similar to the one used for the aforementioned underground anti-tunnel obstacle, relies on extremely sensitive sensors, but still manages to overcome one of the main weak points of its predecessors—the reliability of the data interpreted from its sensors.
Since the border area is full of heavy vehicles moving daily in the area, from armored personnel carriers and IDF tanks to farmers' combine tractors, suspicious signals were picked up over the years by sensors deployed in the area, but ultimately proved to be false—caused by the movement of vehicles on the ground.
This has often led to security forces searching for tunnels in vain. This time, it seems, the new system has proven effective.
In tandem with the new technology, the IDF has been working on the new underground obstacle, which costs NIS 4 billion, and does almost of the work to neutralize tunnels.
First, it physically blocks tunnels using a thick concrete wall that penetrates deep below ground while identifying when they are being dug with sensitive detectors. After identifying the tunnels’ weak points and cavities it automatically destroys the enemy tunnel by pumping them with liquid cement.
The system is also capable of overcoming another problem that raised concern in the IDF: Hamas digging lower than the wall itself.
The wall is expected to be complete within the next two years. In the meantime, the IDF will continue to locate the tunnels and destroy them by employing the same method as they did on Monday. Nevertheless, officials are more than cognizant of the fact that even when the wall is declared operational, it will not be able to fully alleviate pressure on the army. It will never be able to act as a full substitute for the soldier and human intelligence. Like any obstacle, it will have its weak points which will render it surmountable.
The field in which experiments are conducted throughout the country continue to be used constantly as soldiers and innovators work to come up with creative solutions in their bid to perfect the country’s defense against terror tunnels.
Despite the technological breakthroughs, the vast majority of tunnels that led to the deaths of soldiers and the kidnapping of Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin were inside Gaza itself.
Thus IDF soldiers are still training for the strong possibility that they will have to deal with tunnels without prior warnings.
“There is no soldier who doesn’t learn about the tunnels in training but the greatest and most important challenge is first of all to identify the opening of the tunnels,” said one battalion commander in an interview with Ynet.
“To that end, we train our forces to understand that there may not necessarily be an intelligence warning about tunnels.