Military Police roadblocks were set up in the Gaza vicinity after the tunnel was discovered several weeks ago. Unlike the tunnel uncovered in October, which was believed to have been excavated by Islamic Jihad, military officials say the tunnel revealed this time is said to belong to Hamas.
The tunnel was neutralized Saturday night. According to military sources, it was dug in recent months from the Khan Younis area to agricultural lands located more than 1 kilometer away from Israeli communities in the Eshkol Regional Council. The 1-kilometer long tunnel, which is considered highly advanced, stretching a few hundreds of meters into Israeli territory.
The IDF has been following the tunnel's progress for several weeks now, even before it crossed into Israeli territory, with full intelligence and operational control. On Saturday night, it was decided to neutralize it in a quiet and reserved manner without the explosions or aerial strikes that were used in previous tunnel detonations.
Military officials believe there were no Palestinian diggers within the tunnel at the time it was neutralized. The tunnel was detected in an area lacking the new anti-tunnel barrier, and the work on the defense system is expected to continue in several points along the strip.
Army officials further estimate that the Gazan side suspected in recent days that the IDF had gained control of the tunnel. Although there are military posts located near the tunnel's exit, the IDF stressed Sunday morning that at no point did the tunnel pose a threat to the Gaza vicinity residents.
'Technology will lead to further achievements'
"The fact that we uncovered and neutralized two infiltrating tunnels within a month and a half shouldn’t be taken for granted," said IDF Spokesperson Brigadier-General Ronen Manelis. "This tunnel stretched deeper into Israeli territory than the previous Islamic Jihad tunnel. No weapons were found in the tunnel, but it's route has yet to be fully reviewed. We neutralized the tunnel on the ground level."
The IDF spokesperson added that "Hamas sees this tunnel as highly important and invested many resources in it. We believe that in light of the way we neutralized the tunnel, there will be no change in routine like in the Gaza vicinity, but we will remain alert. The tunnels will turn into a death trap for those who dig them and for those who send the diggers.
"The tunnel project in the Gaza Strip suffered a heavy blow Sunday morning alongside another achievement for our forces, from the South Command to the Engineering and special forces involved. This is a highly significant Hamas tunnel. In the past few weeks, we have been working to map and locate its route."
Brig.-Gen. Manelis added that the tunnel was no longer usable, neither on Israeli territory nor on the Gazan territory near the border. "All our activity was on Israeli territory. We used several technologies to locate this tunnel, combined with the technology that detected the tunnel about a month and a half ago. This is a technology which has turned into a method that will lead to further significant achievements.
"We see this tunnel as a blatant violation of Israeli sovereignty, and it has nothing to do with the rockets launched at the Gaza vicinity area over the weekend. The timing of the tunnel's neutralization and uncovering was the result of operational considerations."
Manelis noted it was unclear who fired the two rockets that hit the city of Sderot on Friday evening was unknown, but said the rest of the rockets fired during the weekend were launched by revel organizations in Gaza. "After our significant strikes in Friday night, we saw Hamas taking active measures to prevent further rocket fire," he said.
'Hamas terrorists digging their own death traps'
Education Minister Naftali Bennett told Ynet in response to the tunnel's discovery, "The message to every Hamas terrorist who digs tunnels into Israel is that they are digging their own death traps.
"Hamas's tunnel project was their strategic flagship project and it faces a gradual deterioration over the next year or two," he added.
Nevertheless, the Bayit Yehudi leader said that despite the IDF's recent successes in locating and demolishing tunnels, Israel should remain alert. "We're at the beginning of the total destruction of the tunnels project, but should remain alert because when Hamas sees its life's work about to collapse, it may be motivated to use them immediately before it loses them," Bennett opined.
Asked whether exposing their tunnels may lead Hamas to desperate measures that may escalate into further conflict, Bennett replied, "We're definitely aware of the dynamics of a potential desperate action and are beefing up security, especially during this time, to head off any surprises."
"As someone who has undertaken the whole issue of tunnels and felt Israel was not doing enough to counter the threat, I can say today the operating on multiple levels—operationally, intelligence-wise, engineering-wise and technologically—is certainly the right way to go about it. I wish to welcome the IDF and the entire security establishment on their achievement," Bennett concluded.
Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said, "The terror tunnels crossing into Israel and hurting our sovereignty are a threat we cannot accept and we will invest any resource to foil it. Thanks to a joint effort of the IDF, Defense Ministry and defense industries, we have reached new technological capabilities in fighting tunnel terrorism. I sincerely hope within the next few months the threat posed by tunnels to residents living on the Gaza perimeter will become a thing of the past."
Minister of Housing and Construction and former GOC Southern Command Yoav Galant added, "Anyone digging tunnel does not intend to pass flowers or candy through them – they intended to carry out grievous terrorist attacks. I congratulate the IDF and Shin Bet security forces on the extraordinary work they've done. We should be completely cognizant on the area in which we live and what our enemy is plotting."
"Hamas conspired to use the tunnel in order to strike at Israel's civilians using terrorists or to kidnap soldiers. Hamas and the other organizations must reconsider now because the path of terrorism is drawing to a close – they are isolated and find it hard striking at us from the sea or above ground, not to mention the vast majority of their rockets are blocked. The day is coming when the path of tunnels will be hermitically sealed," Galant prophesized.
In a statement issued Sunday morning, Hamas' military wing warned that "the enemy will pay for the aggression and crimes against our people. The enemy must be afraid and know that it will pay the price of breaking the rules of the conflict with the Gaza resistance.
"The coming days will make it clear to the enemy how wrong it was in estimating the resistance's willpower. The enemy's leaders and its decision makers must understand the extent of their foolish management of the battle against the resistance. We promise them that we will make them bite their fingers in regret over their misjudgments regarding the resistance's silence and the way they are waging the battle."