Shadow Government

Iran’s Terror Tunnels

Breaking news about Cuba and North Korea has obscured equally important news about Iran. It is accelerating support for terror tunnels in Gaza aimed under Israel; rockets and missiles pointed toward Israel; as well as tunnels in Iran designed to hide cheating on nuclear obligations that could scuttle negotiations in Vienna. Just as Israeli intelligence is unable ...

Tensions Remain High At Israeli Gaza Border
ISRAEL GAZA BORDER, ISRAEL - AUGUST 04: Israeli soldier seen inside a tunnel built underground by Hamas militants leading from the Gaza Strip into Southern Israel, seen on August 4, 2014 near the Israeli Gaza border, Israel. As Operation Protective Edge enters its 28th day, the Israeli mission of demolishing Hamas tunnels comes to a close and ground forces returned from Gaza, while Israeli airstrikes in Gaza and Hamas rocket fire to Israeli continues. Palestinian groups including envoys of Hamas and Islamic Jihad held their first formal meeting in Cairo hoping to secure a durable ceasefire with Israel. (Photo by Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images)

Breaking news about Cuba and North Korea has obscured equally important news about Iran. It is accelerating support for terror tunnels in Gaza aimed under Israel; rockets and missiles pointed toward Israel; as well as tunnels in Iran designed to hide cheating on nuclear obligations that could scuttle negotiations in Vienna.

Just as Israeli intelligence is unable to determine existence of terror tunnels without adequate human intelligence in Gaza, both Jerusalem and Washington have a hard time assessing nuclear tunnels in Iran. They lack appropriate human intelligence to reinforce signals and satellite intelligence. It is easier to track rockets and missiles from Iran into Gaza (and to Hezbollah in Lebanon). The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), based in Paris with an extensive network on the ground in Iran, has validated human intelligence capability. (Although controversy surrounds the NCRI about alleged payments to buy support, such claims are irrelevant to the merits of issues discussed here.)

Terror Tunnels

With Iranian assistance and funding, tunnels in Gaza display Tehran’s efforts to threaten Israel. By secretly helping its ally Hamas to build tunnels, Iran laid the predicate for the 2014 Gaza War. On Dec. 19, the Jerusalem Post reported that Hamas accelerated tunnel repair. Hamas admitted earlier this fall that tunnel construction had resumed. The Israeli military has estimated that it cost Hamas $90 million to build the 32 tunnels that were uncovered. The tunnels required, on average, 350 truckloads of construction supplies each; contrary to using them for schools, hospitals, and housing, Hamas used supplies to rebuild terror tunnels.

After the 2008 Gaza War, Iran aided rehabilitation of tunnels destroyed or damaged in the fighting. During the Muslim Brotherhood one-year rule in Egypt (2012 to 2013), Iran accelerated transfer of rockets to Gaza by sea and land (Sudan and Sinai).

In his new book Terror Tunnels, Alan Dershowitz states that the 2014 War in Gaza required Israeli ground forces to gain access to the tunnels and shut them down. Israel was unable to determine their routes and exit ramps because they were too deep underground and not detectable from the air.

Israeli intelligence was largely unaware that Hamas had kept critical details about the tunnel network secret; Israel relies on technologies capable of eavesdropping on telecommunications in Palestinian territories. Hamas countered by wiring its longer tunnels with cables unconnected with the local telephone grid. Such is the importance of the tunnels that Israel’s Gaza War aim changed from mainly stopping rocket attacks to principally destroying the tunnels.

Rockets and Missiles from Tehran

As used here, rockets are short-range portable weapons launched from hand, such as a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG); a missile is a guided long-range weapon launched from a fixed or mobile platform. Hamas has thousands of rockets; Hezbollah has thousands of missiles as well as rockets. Iran has an axis of support again in Gaza and Lebanon. A senior Israeli source said Hezbollah may send terrorists into Israel from Lebanon while striking civilian communities with missiles. Hezbollah may have an underground tunnel network leading into Israel’s north, which could be used to conduct terror attacks on its residents along the Israel-Lebanon border.

Lebanon, Gaza, and the West Bank are a ring of Tehran’s doctrine to surround Israel. “Iran, as statements by its senior officials suggest, is working to encircle Israel,” i.e., from north (Hezbollah), south (Gaza), and east (West Bank), argued Lt. Col. (ret.) Michael Segall in a recent post for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, an independent research institute.

Nuclear Tunnels in Iran

Regarding nuclear tunnels, Iran increasingly hides its facilities in networks of underpasses and bunkers across the country. Because it is difficult to determine what part of Iran’s nuclear program is hidden, there is a need for human source intelligence to complement electronic and satellite surveillance. In 2002, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), the opposition organization that can continue adding to the multisource basis for verification of Iran’s nuclear tunneling, revealed that Iran was building a secret underground nuclear plant at Natanz. Later, the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) determined it was for enriching uranium and released imagery of Natanz in December 2002.

“Since 2002, the [International Atomic Energy] Agency (IAEA) has become increasingly concerned about the possible existence in Iran of undisclosed nuclear related activities involving military related organizations, including activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile,” said a 2012 ISIS report.

At the Esfahan uranium conversion facility, there are three tunnel entrances. The tunneling was first discovered in December 2004, in violation of IAEA safeguards, with additional tunneling details provided by the NCRI in 2013. In 2005, the NCRI announced that Iran was digging tunnels for missile and nuclear work at 14 sites, including an underground complex near the city of Qom.

The NCRI made public tunnel construction of Tehran’s nuclear activities when the organization revealed for the first time existence of the Fordow facility as an underground complex under construction near Qom. On Sept. 25, 2009, the Western allies publicly acknowledged the Qom site. On the day before, NCRI revealed two additional sites in and near Tehran, where the Iranian regime may be working on detonators for nuclear warheads, one of the points in dispute between the IAEA and Tehran and in the nuclear talks. Prompted by such publicity, Tehran admitted existence of a uranium enrichment facility about 20 miles north of Qom. The NCRI published its revelations in a 2014 book, How Iran Regime Cheated the World: Tehran’s Systematic Efforts to Cover Up its Nuclear Weapons Program. A main finding is how Tehran increasingly keeps its nuclear sites inaccessible by using tunnels.

Israeli intelligence was unable to determine existence of terror tunnels without adequate human sources in Gaza; likewise, Jerusalem and Washington require such intelligence to reinforce signals and satellite intelligence about Iranian nuclear tunnels; the NCRI has the capability and may be willing to share this information rather than to simply publicize it.

(Photo by Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images)

Raymond Tanter served as a senior member on the National Security Council staff in the Reagan-Bush administration and is now professor emeritus at the University of Michigan.

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