Israeli Official: Advances in Anti-Tunnel Technology Will Help Secure Gaza Border

(The Washington Post) -
Gaza tunnel
A picture taken with an ultra-wide-angle lens on the Israeli side of the border with Gaza shows the interior of a tunnel dug by Islamic Jihad, leading from Gaza into Israel, near the southern Israeli kibbutz of Kissufim. (Jack Guez/Pool via AP)

Advances in anti-tunnel technology have provided the IDF with new means to help head off attacks from Palestinian terrorists based in the Gaza Strip, an Israeli military official said Tuesday.

The official, who heads the underground warfare section of the Ground Forces Command, said the new methods for detecting and destroying extensive, often sophisticated underground spaces had resulted in the elimination of at least three tunnels since October 2017.

The official, who spoke on the sidelines of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference in Washington, said the new methods are the culmination of three to four years of investment, including funding from the U.S. government, and work by the Israeli military and defense firms including Elbit Systems and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd.

Terrorists’ ability to use underground tunnels to launch attacks was a major features of the 2014 war against the Palestinian group Hamas in Gaza. About 30 tunnels were destroyed during that conflict.

“We realize that we know what we’re doing now. We know how to conduct these operations and we know how to apply these technologies,” the official said. “It’s not that we stopped [the problem] and everything’s fine. But we have a good plan.”

The official spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

According to the IDF, terrorists have used tunnels to attack Israel since the early 2000s, but their use has accelerated since then. In 2006, an IDF soldier was abducted by Hamas terrorists who crossed into Israel through a tunnel.

While the official declined to provide details on the technology, he suggested that it was based on techniques used by extractive industries, which sometimes employ seismic or sound waves to prospect for minerals or fossil fuels.

“When we started working on this we wanted to see what was being done in the world,” he said. “Oil and gas use a lot of seismic technologies and we definitely wanted to learn from them.”

The official said the soil around Gaza is extremely varied, making it more difficult when using detection technology to distinguish between concrete or open space associated with tunnels, and naturally occurring clay or sand.

Looking for tunnels is basically a task of finding “the right anomaly,” he said.

According to Israeli media reports, the technology includes seismic sensors that seek to detect underground vibrations and can identify the location and dimensions of a tunnel.

The official likewise declined to give details on what he described as advances in destruction technologies used to destroy tunnels once they have been detected. He said the IDF is now able to detonate tunnels in certain instances with minimal damage to surface structures or activities. He denied reports in Arab media that accused Israel of using gas against people inside Gaza tunnels.

“What we’re doing is building an arsenal of tools that is varied to be able to fight off our enemy in any way they choose,” he said.

The Israeli government is also constructing a massive underground barrier to block tunnels.