GOC Southern Command Eyal Zamir clarified to residents of Gaza border communities on Sunday that the IDF's objectives in combating Hamas's underground threat—as well as the threat posed by other terror groups in Gaza—have not yet been fulfilled.
Zamir spoke to residents scant hours after news broke of the "longest and deepest" terror tunnel from the Gaza Strip to Israel was discovered and destroyed.
"Challenges are ahead," he said while toasting with the heads of local southern authorities in honor of Israel's upcoming 70th Independence Day. "We mustn't rest on our laurels since threats still persist."
The ceremony was held in the Hof Ashkelon Regional Council, and marked the last time Maj.-Gen. Zamir would meet with the heads of local authorities in such a wide forum since in two months' time he will be finishing his tenure.
The senior IDF officer continued, "For the past several weeks, we've been dealing with challenges, and there are still challenges to come. What we’ve accomplished is to prove to ourselves that with a combination of intense work and tunnel-related technology, we can achieve our goals. The tunnel we exposed is proof for that. We've known about it for a long time, but continued monitoring it."
The IDF announced that Hamas's terror tunnel, exposed and neutralized recently, penetrated Israel's territory in the Sha'ar HaNegev Regional Council region. Since the tunnel was connected on the Gazan side to a series of tunnels in the strip, its destruction constituted an operational achievement.
The most recent tunnel was the eighth the army exposed and neutralized in the past six months. Three of the previously discovered tunnels were taken out of commission in Gaza, and five in Israeli territory. The tunnel was neutralized using concrete in the past few days.
Ophir Liebstein, a member of the Kfar Aza kibbutz, said the discovery of terror tunnels was not new to the Gaza border communities. "All of us, in the communities located in the fence's vicinity, as well as communities that are more far removed from it, sense the difficulties and challenges this complicated reality provides us with," he said.
"Precisely in this kind of reality, I think we can be very proud of the time and place we have reached. We can be proud of the communities, of the unique composition that distinguishes Sha'ar HaNegev Regional Council and of our ability to cope with hardships and challenges," the kibbutz member added.
"The council is committed to act—and is acting—tenaciously in conjunction with all of the relevant authorities to make sure that all possible defense solutions are implemented to protect the lives of the Gaza border communities' residents."
Liebstein provided an example of said efforts, citing the advanced systems Israel uses to locate terror tunnels. "Today, their advantages and significance are evident, but not so long ago, we had to fight for them, as well as for shelters and population evacuation during times of war."
He then iterated his commitment to continuing to lobby for his region by "prioritizing budgets and recognizing it as a region of national importance."
Elaborating on his action, Liebstein said the way to attain his goals was to "invest in all the communities and public areas' infrastructures, invest in education, culture and welfare budgets, give benefits to new and existing businesses and act in many more creative ways."
"Our commitment is to continue investing in our community, and the government's commitment is to provide us with the necessary means to maintain our safety and prosperity," he concluded.
As part of the effort to thwart the threat of underground terror, a technological lab for detecting tunnels was established in the army's Gaza Division two years ago.
Captain B., an electricity and chemistry engineer, is the head of the lab and of the specialists in various technological and research fields, including people from the Land Technology Division, physicists, engineers, intelligence officers and geologists.
The lab operates to improve existing technologies and developing new ones for detecting and mapping of tunnels, capable of meeting the transformative nature of the threat posed by the underground structures and the different types of terrain enveloping it.
The lab cooperates with intelligence personnel and other engineering units stationed in the field to detect a tunnel. The cooperation begins with investigating and studying the tunnels and ends with their neutralization.
The head of Sha'ar HaNegev Regional Council Alon Shuster met with GOC Zamir and conveyed his concerns. "We feel anger and frustration because Israel left Gaza 13 years ago, while putting internal and external efforts into that process (of leaving) to allow Gaza to be free and develop," he said.
Further expressing his frustrations, Shuster continued, "The Palestinian leadership in Gaza, however, has chosen to focus on denying our right to exist and on a violent struggle against us. Nevertheless, we feel safe and self-confident since justice is on our side and since the IDF forces receive suitable instructions to prevent illegal crossing (of the border) into Israel and undermine the country's sovereignty."
Head of Hof Ashkelon Regional Council Yair Farjun also spoke about the matter, saying, "Only today another very significant tunnel was exposed—one that could have been turned offensive in an instant. Thanks to the army and the resources it has invested, (the tunnel) was revealed beforehand and the threat was eliminated," he explained.
"We, as a civil system, are grateful to the military system commanded by Maj.-Gen. Zamir and the fact we celebrated Passover—as well as the rest of the week—quietly and peacefully is thanks to our moral and professional army, which holds its values sacred, and we can rely on it to sustain our peaceful and quiet routine on the home front," Farjun went on to say.