According to World Bank’s data Gaza is still the third poorest Arab country in the world, coming after only Sudan and Yemen[1], lacking the necessarily base for any economic empowerment and logistic standard connection. “Standard” is a primary specification due to the fact that one of the most important tactical goals of the current IDF’s operation “Protective Edge” is to eliminate the underground network planned and created by Hamas in and out Gaza’s borders.

The tunnels’ system, if undermined, would considerably weaken Hamas’ warfare capability, as the framework connects Gaza with both Egypt and Israel and it is the vital vein for smuggling and supplying the Strip and for providing rockets’ storage within a secured environment, expressively structured for covert actions against Israel. Tunnels’ logistic represents not only the fastest and most efficient way to asymmetrically penetrate Israeli active defense (as around 85% of missiles, RPGs and rockets find strong opposition by the protective structure of Iron Dome)[2], but also the natural way of communication inside Gaza itself, whereby Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and other groups exert their terror tactics. Building tunnels in Gaza means therefore to create an escape web and retreat opportunity when Israeli ground forces intervene into the Strip (as in the current situation). Logistically speaking, civilian settlements become both the perfect protection for tunnels’ exit and an accurate choice if the “human shield” option would acquire space and supporters[3].

 Gaza, whose density is the highest in the world after Singapore’s and Monaco’s, shows an incredible range of webs and tunnels’ architectures, for example the Rafah system, uncovered partially in 2013, that was structured on 800 tunnels from where 68% of wheat, 98% of sugar and 100% of steel and concrete were entering into the Strip from Egypt (together with rockets and ammos for Al Qassam Brigades and other factions)[4]. Israeli government seems, in any case, an increased difficulty in thinking strategically: it is Israel itself that has spread the construction of the underground system, when it tried to establish a semi-perennial control and blockade on Gaza’s external communications. A special mention deserves the present reduction of Gaza’s maritime space, with the progressive pressure from Israeli naval forces to reduce Gaza’s territorial waters and fishing space from the 20 miles of the Gaza-Gerico Agreement of 1994 to the 12 miles of the Bertini’s in 2002 and finally to the 6 miles forced by the Israeli navy in 2006 (Gas field found by BG Groups is assumed to have added pressure on it)[5]. The growth of controls and security procedures against the fishing docks in Gaza, from Han Yunis to Dayr al-Balah and Gaza is tactically perceived as the maritime side of the check points’ seizure and control, from Eubam to Karni and Erez, from Kerem Shalom to Sufa and Nahal Oz. The psychological warfare of Hamas and its active attitude in “war psychologically waged” find in underground tunnels the best and the most cost-effective option, for not mentioning the real storage capability of firearms and sabotage materials.

In any case, it is due to the present strategic importance of the tunnels’ supply line that the Israeli Defense Forces decided on Thursday to walk in the Strip starting the ground phase of the operation. Paratroopers and logistic engineers, combined with the special corps (Nahal), after several days of sea and air strikes, gradually pushed Gaza’s inhabitants towards the larger settlements (Rafah, Khan Younis and Gaza City), therefore creating a protection belt around the border areas of Tas as Sultan and Shabura (Rafah), Al Kararah, Beni Sahila, Absan Al Zaira and Absan Al Kabira (Khan Younis) and Al Trachma, Al Gadida, Beit Anoun, Beit Lahiya and Al Atrata just outside Gaza City[6]. Indeed, the primary target of IDF is absolutely the partial, or, better, the total elimination of all the tunnels’ ramification in and from Gaza through Israel and through Egypt, which turns to be a relevant aspect of the core strategy, something completely not achieved in the aftermaths of “Cast Lead” in 2008 an of “Pillar of Defense” in 2012. Actually, it is from Egypt’s frontiers that supply line keep alive by Iran and Qatar (who also has been paying for many months Gaza’s employees’ salaries, until the recent stop from U.S. and the Arab banks operating in Israel and Gaza itself), especially following the indirect smuggling path of Sudan[7].

The dangerousness of tunnels’ logistics goes even further as the several proofs of Hamas’ improvements in longer-range rockets, combined within the desperation of Hamas’ about losing control on Gaza’s population ( it seems it has failed to reply the same “bullets plus ballots” tactics of Hezbollah in Lebanon)[8], make clearer how Israeli forces should ameliorate the entire apparatus around ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Recon. The discovery of a two and half kilometers tunnel from Gaza to Israel, arriving near Kibbutz Ein Haslosha (built using more than 800 tons of concrete), or the recent appearance of Hamas’ armed militias around Kibbutz Sufa[9], has made it clear the strategic steps of the IDF Headquarter. Controlling Erez gate, while Egyptian forces block Rafah’s check point and only Kerem Shalom is still open (food and gasoline for the UNRWA, United Nations Relief and Work Agency) turned to be insufficient. That’s why it is since 2012 that Israel has started to implement the so-called “Power Number” operation (Mispar Hazak, in Hebrew), a strategy that aims to uncover Hama’s smuggling tunnels routes by using geophones 1.5 meters into the ground therefore measuring energy waves with acoustic sensors (on the model of navy’s oil searching technics)[10]. Improvements due to Mispar Hazak have been considerable but not definitive. In short, IDF had to upgrade its “tunnels’ detection” capability by integrating both recon minirobots and D-9 automatic armored caterpillar to discover and destroy tunnels, whereas the explosive would be dangerous or useless[11]. However, tunnels destruction is strictly prohibitive when under enemy fire, whether RPGs or automatic guns and rifles would be in enemy’s possession. In this sense IDF is enlarging its area of operability pushing back Hamas’ and other factions’ militias causing the incredible growth in terms of casualties.

 

STEFANO LUPO

Research Fellow at “Iran Progress”

 

 


[2] “How Israel’s Iron Dome Works”, The Economist; 2014, 15th July – http://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2014/07/economist-explains-12.

[3] “Hamas Terrorist tactics in Gaza’s Strip”, YouTube – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P8W6CoCyFCU.

[4] “ Egypt’s Army says discovered 39 tunnels in Rafah since June”, Anadolu Agency; 2013, 18th July.

[5] David K. Schermerhorn, “Fishermen’s rights versus the development of Natural Gaz”, Globalresearch; 2009, 14th January – http://www.globalresearch.ca/geopolitical-time-line-war-natural-gas-and-gaza-s-marine-zone/11787.

[6] “Protective Edge Live Updates”, The Algemeinerhttp://www.algemeiner.com/?s=live+updates.

[7] Con Coughlin,  “Is Iran trying to set up new arms smuggling route to Gaza from Sudan?”, The Telegraph; 2013, 27th Avril – http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/concoughlin/100214157/is-iran-trying-to-set-up-a-new-arms-smuggling-route-to-gaza-from-sudan/

[8] Ehud Yaari, “Hamas opts for the Hezbollah Model”, The Washington Institute; 2014, 3rd June – http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/hamas-opts-for-the-hezbollah-model.

[9] Yaakov Lappin, “IDF discovers Palestinian terrorist tunnel leading Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha”, The Jerusalem Post; 2013, 13th October – http://www.jpost.com/Breaking-News/IDF-discovers-Palestinian-terrorist-tunnel-leading-Kibbutz-Ein-Hashlosha-328582.

[10] Hanan Greenberg, “New IDF Invention Will Expose Underground Tunnels to Gaza”, Al Monitor; 2012, 3rd July – http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/fr/contents/articles/security/01/07/talpiot-graduates-decipher-the-t.html#.

[11]“Israele invade Gaza con azioni di terra. Vasta operazione militare nella Striscia”, La Stampa; 2014, 17th July – http://www.lastampa.it/2014/07/17/esteri/israele-trovata-lintesa-sulla-tregua-ma-hamas-smentisce-nessun-accordo-tfhSfo0HAB9w3O6U86zWxM/pagina.html.