Israel spent $250mn on destroying Hamas tunnels under Gaza since 2004 – report

Palestinian fighters from the Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of the Hamas movement, are seen inside an underground tunnel in Gaza © Mohammed Salem
Israel has spent around one billion shekels ($250 million) on countering Hamas tunnel-building under the Israeli-Gaza border since 2004, according to an Israeli TV report.

The money went toward things like developing technology for the discovery of the tunnels, as well as other “operational costs,” the Times of Israel quoted Channel 2 as saying. IDF officials told the channel that locating and destroying the tunnels was a key priority for the Israeli forces.

According to the IDF, a lot of the work has been carried out in secrecy. It has also been reported that the US will invest $120 million into Israel’s tunnel-detection technologies, along with a further $120 million from Israel.

Although the current report states that Israel worked to destroy the tunnels since 2004, it was not until 2005 that the IDF left the Gaza Strip and Israel relocated some 8,000 of its residents living there. Two years after that, the Palestinian movement Hamas took control of the Strip.

Although Israel can boast destroying around 30 of the tunnels Hamas fighters used during the 50-day war of 2014, the Palestinian group says it’s been busy rebuilding. And Israeli residents living in the vicinity have also complained of hearing and feeling the construction going on right underneath their feet.

But as IDF Maj-Gen. Yoav Mordechai said, according to the Times of Israel, “I would suggest the residents of the Gaza Strip not to occupy themselves with the tunnels and to get away from them, especially after seeing the results in recent days.”

As this goes on, at least five tunnel collapses and 11 dead Hamas diggers have been reported by Palestinian sources. The IDF won’t confirm whether this was due to Israeli activity, but did say it must keep the details of such activities secret, while adding that it’s busy locating 100 more tunnels using heavy-duty vehicles.

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot also hinted at a preemptive strike Tuesday, saying Israel has “advanced capabilities” for doing so.  It is presumed he means the advanced detection technology the money was spent on.  “We are doing a lot, but many of [the things we do] are hidden from the public. We have dozens, if not a hundred, engineering vehicles on the Gaza border,” Eisenkot said.

The IDF chief was addressing criticism leveled at the forces for their alleged lack of readiness in the face of Hamas’ tunnel-digging. Some officials have spoken out in favor of a preemptive strike against the entire network of diggers, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the strategy last week.

“We are working methodically and calmly against all threats, including threats from Hamas, both with defensive and offensive measures. And of course, in the event we are attacked from tunnels in the Gaza Strip, we will act very forcefully against Hamas, and with much more force than Operation Protective Edge,”  the PM said two weeks ago at a conference.

Meanwhile, this forceful approach in Gaza, as well as the West Bank, was criticized by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights. Makarim Wibisono called for an investigation into the IDF’s practice of holding Palestinians, including children, without charge.

"The upsurge in violence is a grim reminder of the unsustainable human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the volatile environment it engenders," Wibisono said. Some 5,680 Palestinians of all ages have been held in detention since October of last year, according to B’Tselem statistics.

Wibonso is also resigning in protest at Israel’s reaction to his statements. It branded them as biased.