Three weeks into deadly fighting in Gaza and along its border, Israeli forces have been surprised to encounter an extensive, sophisticated tunnel system that has been used by Hamas to infiltrate Israeli territory and carry out raids. The destruction of that tunnel system has become a focal point of Israeli military operations, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has emphasized that any cease-fire must allow his forces to continue identifying and sealing those tunnels.
To understand why these tunnels have become such a hot-button issue, one need look no further than a video released by Hamas by Tuesday, July 29. That video shows a group of fighters exiting such a tunnel and attacking an Israeli military installation. They appear to kill at least one Israeli soldier, though the combat footage is chaotic and not entirely clear. The fighters also make off with an X95 rifle, a sophisticated machine gun used by the Israel Defense Forces.
One can see why the tunnels have become such a focal point for Israeli leaders. They allow Hamas to bypass Israel’s border defenses to literally burst out of the ground to stage surprise attacks that are unpredictable in scope and location.
Robust Israeli defenses, from the construction of the security wall to the Iron Dome missile defense system, have mostly succeeded in preventing attacks within Israel proper. The tunnel system is the first time in recent years that Israeli forces are facing a weapon against which they have no immediate response — and one that leaves many Israeli civilians terrified that they could be the next targets.
Shane Harris is a senior staff writer at Foreign Policy, covering intelligence and cyber security. He is the author of The Watchers: The Rise of America's Surveillance State, which chronicles the creation of a vast national security apparatus and the rise of surveillance in America. The Watchers won the New York Public Library’s Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism, and the Economist named it one of the best books of 2010. Shane is the winner of the Gerald R. Ford Prize for Distinguished Reporting on National Defense. He has four times been named a finalist for the Livingston Awards for Young Journalists, which honor the best journalists in America under the age of 35. Prior to joining Foreign Policy, he was the senior writer for The Washingtonian and a staff correspondent at National Journal.| The Cable |