FEATURE - The Israeli army is erecting an underground concrete wall along the border with the Gaza Strip, to prevent attacks by Palestinian armed groups from that territory.
Special Envoy to Kissoufim
The construction site extends as far as the eye can see along the border with the Gaza Strip. From time to time, huge yellow-colored gears dig into the basement while others pour concrete into a trench or maneuver steel frames of cyclopean proportions. One year after the start of the work, the Israeli army claims to have built four of the sixty-five kilometers of the underground wall that will ultimately protect the civilian population from Hamas offensive tunnels. Several hundred workers, she adds, are busy with it six days a week and twenty-four hours a day.
The project, which is estimated to cost NIS 3 billion (around EUR 750 million), is expected to be completed by the summer of 2019. "It will then be possible to say to the inhabitants of neighboring localities that they are in free from this threat, "assured a senior military official on Thursday during a rare on-site visit to the foreign press.
The construction of such a seemingly unprecedented underground wall was decided after the war of summer 2014. Throughout the 52-day conflict, in which more than 2100 Palestinians and 73 Israelis were killed, the inhabitants of Cross-border kibbutz have lived with the fear of seeing enemy fighters emerge from the depths via the tunnels punctured under the old fence that encloses Gaza.
On four occasions, Hamas commandos have managed to infiltrate Israel. The deadliest of these raids, conducted on July 28, 2014, claimed the lives of five Israeli soldiers stationed in an observation turret near the kibbutz of Nahal Oz. The army claims to have destroyed 32 tunnels during the "Protective Edge" operation, but it is convinced that the armed groups resumed their underground work as soon as the hostilities ended. A commission of inquiry later accused the government of not paying enough attention to an old threat. In 2006, it was already through a tunnel that a Palestinian commando had infiltrated near Kerem Shalom to capture soldier Gilad Shalit ...
Summoned to find a parade, the army began by strengthening the resources devoted to the surveillance and detection of tunnels. According to the high-ranking Israeli, Hamas and Islamic Jihad have developed the "equivalent of a metro network" in which several thousand workers work. Inspired by the contraband that, until their destruction in the summer of 2013, brought all sorts of goods from the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula, the armed groups have developed their know-how and are now able to dig several dozen meters deep. "The most sophisticated of these tunnels are equipped with an electrical network, toilets and even bathrooms", assures the officer, who denounces "the cynical diversion of materials whose transfer has been authorized in a humanitarian context".
Evidently better informed, the army has recently located and destroyed three tunnels whose ramifications were prolonged on the Israeli side. October 30, it is first of all a work built by Islamic Jihad that she blew up near kibbutz Kissoufim. Five members of the armed group were killed on the spot while nine rescuers died, probably asphyxiation, during their intervention. The tunnel, which the press was able to visit on Thursday at the east end, is 1.80 meters high, 80 cm wide and sank 26 meters underground at its lowest point - but only at 6 meters deep on the place of its destruction.
Last Sunday, the army also bombed a tunnel pierced under the border terminal of Kerem Shalom, through which the goods destined for Gaza pass. "Hamas is now under pressure," wants to believe the Israeli, who warns: "In a few months, his offensive tunnels will not serve him any more."
Multiplication of rocket fire
The underground wall, about a meter wide, will sink to a depth that the authorities wish to keep secret but which is understandable that it will be counted in tens of meters. Five cement factories have been built along the border and some 20 drills will eventually be deployed on the site. A fence eight to nine meters high, equipped with multiple detectors, will complete the device on the surface. Some experts warn that no construction, however solid, can offer absolute protection against underground intrusion attempts. But the military is certain that the new obstacle will be tough enough to give them time to intervene in the event of an alert.
The spotlight on a site so far managed with relative discretion comes as Hamas, in power in the Gaza Strip since summer 2007, faces difficulties of unprecedented magnitude. The infrastructure is running out of steam and the economy is slowing down, as witnessed by the recent halving of the amount of goods entering the Kerem Shalom terminal each day.
This crisis no doubt helps to explain the recent proliferation of rocket fire into Israel, despite the efforts of the Islamist movement to contain the most radical factions. "We do not think Hamas wants an escalation," said the IDF officer, "but it would take a rocket to hit a bus or a crèche to get things out of control."
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Source: © In Gaza, Israel builds anti-lunar wall