Prime Challenge for Israel's Gaza Ground Invasion: Hamas Terror Tunnel Network

JERUSALEM, Israel – The Israeli military included in its report on the strikes against Gaza terror targets this week that fighter jets had destroyed a tunnel which gave Hamas fighters quick access to the sea.

So far, the item hasn’t received much attention, yet the the size and scope of the Hamas underground tunnel network is understood by Israeli leadership to be both a prime concern to be dealt with during the upcoming ground invasion as well as a major reason for carrying out such an invasion in the first place.

According to the Israeli daily Maariv, “Apart from the underground facility network of North Korea, Hamas operates what is estimated to be the world’s largest tunnel network.”

Military analyses of the network tunnels give estimates as high as 1,300 tunnels at a depth of 70 yards underground, with passages measuring more than two yards high and two yards wide.

John Spencer at West Point’s Modern War Institute wrote, “In total, there were believed to be over three hundred miles of tunnels in 2021, when Israel claimed to have destroyed sixty miles of tunnels during an eleven-day bombing campaign. Even if those tunnels have not been rebuilt or replaced, that means that it is likely that there remain hundreds of miles of intricate, complex, and deep tunnel infrastructure in Gaza. It is a veritable city underneath the cities on Gaza’s surface.”

In fact, members of the Israel Defense Forces (I.D.F.) refer to the Hamas network as “the Metro.”

Some experts on terrorism suspect that the more than 200 hostages captured by Hamas may be living in the tunnels.

In Spencer’s estimation, “Hamas will have already placed its leadership, fighters, headquarters, communication, weapons, and supplies like water, food, ammunition in its tunnel complexes to prepare for the ground assault by Israeli forces. The tunnels will allow fighters to move between a series of fighting positions safely and freely under massive buildings, even after the IDF drop thousand-pound bombs on them.”

Despite the immense challenges posed by the Hamas network, the I.D.F’s response is likely to be historic. Spencer notes that the I.D.F. is on the vanguard of what is called in military terms “subterranean warfare.”

He suggests that the task remains formidable, even with Israel’s advancements in specialty personnel and technology.

“Hamas will likely put civilians and hostages in their tunnels as human shields,” Spencer wrote. “All of this means that Israel will have to take a deliberate approach to each of the tunnels they will discover.”

To date, the size of the task ahead has left Israel’s political and military leaders undaunted. In the days after October 7, they have not wavered in their claim that Hamas will be destroyed.

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