The IDF completed its destruction in the early hours of Sunday morning of a Hamas terror tunnel that was attacked by Israeli jets Saturday evening underneath the Kerem Shalom border crossing.
The tunnel reached all the way to the Egyptian side of the border and was dug from Rafah at a length of approximately 1.5 kilometers.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the same evening that Israel would continuue to “systematically respond with even greater force” to terror attacks launched by Hamas from the Gaza Strip, confirming that the Israel Air Force (IAF) had attacked the Hamas target in the southern Gazan city.
“There are people who say that the IDF attacks sand dunes. That is not correct. We are responding to aggression against the State of Israel and are taking vigorous and systematic action against hostile infrastructures,” Netanyahu said as he boarded the plane for his departure for India.
“Hamas needs to understand that we won’t allow these continued attacks and we will respond with even greater force.”
Israeli planes bombed the tunnel opening at around 11pm Saturday night on the Gazan side in Rafah, some 900 meters from the enclave’s border with Israel.
The tunnel penetrated 180 meters into Israel territory, passing underneath Kerem Shalom, the only commercial crossing between Gaza and Israel which serves as the conduit for gas and diesel pipelines and antennas. Israel shut down the crossing before the IAF attack until further notice.
IDF Spokesperson Brigadier-General Ronen Manelis denied claims made by Hamas that the tunnel was merely intended for smuggling.
“This is the first terror tunnel of its kind that has been dug over the last year and was still being worked on. It’s possible that the it was dug on the Egyptian side to stage a combined attack in the future on the Kerem Shalom crossing from the Egyptian side too and to transport activists or weapons to the Sinai,” Manelis said.
“It is a significant asset for Hamas. We will continue to act rigorously against the terror tunnels and we are not interested in an escalation of the situation,” Manelis continued. “The tunnel endangered the Kerem Shalom crossing and Hamas did this cynically and absurdly.”
Yoav Galant, a member of Netanyahu's Security Cabinet, also said on Army Radio that Israel is "not looking for confrontation with Hamas." Nonetheless, he said Israel "could not abide by a situation in which Israelis are harmed by fire (from Gaza)".
The incident marks the fourth time the IDF has uncovered and destroyed Hamas tunnels in the last three months, but a different method was adopted to neutralize the latest tunnel.
“One time it is an incident, two times it is a coincidence and three times it is a system,” Manelis asserted. “The IDF has the most advanced ability in the world against tunnels, but it is not a magic solution and it is still a process. Through that crossing, tens of thousands of tons of merchandise is transported to the Palestinians.”
Other officials in the IDF also refuted Hamas claims that the tunnel was intended only for smuggling. “We know how smuggling tunnels look … and this is absolutely a terror tunnel, the central part of which was dug underneath a commercial crossing.”
Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that the tunnel was a flagrant violation of Israel’s sovereignty. “The destruction of the attack tunnels is an essential component of the policy of systematically striking Hamas’s strategic capabilities,” Lieberman said. “The message to Gaza’s leadership ad residents is clear: Invest in the sanctity of life, no in burial tunnels.”
A military committee charged with reviewing Operation Protective Edge published in October 2016 some of its conclusions, including a belief that the IDF was not adequately prepared for the tunnel threats on the eve of the war.
In September 2016, a senior Israeli military official said a massive underground barrier being built along the Gaza border to defend against Hamas tunnels should be finished in a matter of months.
Reuters contributed to this report.