Hamas has a long and storied history of using Gaza’s civilians as cover for its terror activities. Two entrances to a network of terror tunnels, built by the terror organization under civilian homes, are just another example of Hamas’s disregard for the lives of Gazans.
The IDF’s Southern Command, in cooperation with the IDF Intelligence Directorate and the Israel Security Agency (ISA), are working to uncover Hamas’s operational and military infrastructure in the Gaza Strip. So far, they’ve revealed and identified significant intelligence – including the uncovering of two terror tunnel openings located in civilian homes, linked to a network built for the purpose of infiltrating Israeli territory and attacking Israelis.
The tunnel openings were found beneath residential buildings in northwestern Gaza. The first, a six-floor building constructed in the past two years, belongs to a citizen of the al-Shati area, situated close to other homes and a gas station. The second belongs to a Hamas-affiliated father of five in Beit Lahia, whose family, brother, and father live above the tunnel opening, which also connects to the “Hope” Mosque next-door.
An Established Strategy
The fact that the tunnel openings were built deep in civilian areas was no mistake – the intelligence efforts found that a considerable portion of Hamas’s military infrastructure makes use of civilian infrastructure like homes, schools, mosques, hospitals, and other public buildings. This is part of their larger combat strategy. By shielding their tunnels, launch sites, and weapon storage facilities with citizens, schools and civilian sites, they make them harder for the IDF to locate and engage.
It also turns these civilian spaces into legitimate targets in wartime, in accordance with international law. Hamas strategically places their terror sites near and within civilian buildings in the hopes that an IDF strike, aiming to eliminate real and deadly threats to Israeli civilians, will result in Gazan deaths that can cause a blow to Israeli legitimacy. In the process, they sacrifice the citizens they claim to defend. International organizations like the UN and the Red Crescent have criticized and condemned this practice, noting that Hamas’s use of schools for rocket storage and field hospitals as launching pads opens them to IAF retaliation for attacks on Israelis. In June 2017, UNRWA released a strong condemnation after a terror tunnel was found under two UN schools, placing students and staff at risk.
The Price of a Terror Tunnel
Hamas has used tunnel networks like these to enable cross-border operations to kidnap and kill Israelis, soldiers and civilians alike. During Operation Protective Edge, heavily armed Hamas terrorists used these tunnels to try to infiltrate the Israeli communities of Sufa and Nir Am, with the objective of carrying out massacres. Five IDF soldiers were killed near Kibbutz Nahal Oz when Hamas fighters emerged from a terror tunnel. In order to combat this threat, the IDF has since placed an increased emphasis on tunnel warfare, among other tactics.
For Hamas, the cost of these cross-border terror tunnels is not cheap. Since Operation Protective Edge, Hamas has invested about $150 million in rebuilding its tunnel infrastructure, and diverted building materials like concrete, steel and wood, which could have gone to rebuilding Gaza’s civilian infrastructure instead.
The Human Cost
The terror tunnel infrastructure doesn’t just cost Hamas money, it costs human lives. Tunnels under construction are prone to collapse, especially during winter months. In 2016-2017, 31 Hamas tunnels collapsed, each one costing millions of dollars. 30 Hamas operatives have been killed in these tunnel collapses and malfunctions. Because Hamas has used children to build tunnels, minors account for about 10 percent of deaths in tunnel accidents.
About two thirds of the money that goes to Hamas, who governs the Gaza strip, ends up in the pockets of their military wing – leaving only trimmings to public services. Money that could go to medical care, electricity, rebuilding, and basic needs is instead funneled underground and into rocket arsenals, prioritizing the killing of Israelis over the prosperity of Gazans.