In the unsettling events of October 7 in Israel, Hamas demonstrated a significant enhancement in its tactical and strategic terror capabilities. This grim incident underscored the organization’s evolution since it first took refuge in the Gaza Strip several decades ago. At the heart of this concerning progression were the infamous Hamas tunnels, meticulously analyzed by Prof. Joel Roskin, a distinguished geomorphologist and geologist from Bar-Ilan University.
Roskin’s comprehensive study, titled “Underground Warfare in the Gaza Strip and the Military Complexity of Combating It,” delves into the intricate web of conditions fostering tunnel development. His research, drawn from his tenure as the head of the terrain research department in the Southern Command, illuminates the field data and geopolitical factors that facilitated the tunnels’ growth.
Historical records reveal a tradition of tunneling spanning over 4,000 years, with examples like Assyrian engineering units undermining enemy city walls during Sargon of Akkad’s reign. Fast forward to 2002, American forces in Afghanistan unearthed a vast tunnel complex connecting natural cave formations in their pursuit of Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.
Initially, Gaza’s tunnels shared basic features with excavation sites worldwide, serving purposes from burial caves to hiding spots. However, each tunnel system in Gaza bore a unique relationship with its geological, geographic, and geopolitical context, a fact often overlooked. Hamas’ tunnel development mirrored the organization’s operational evolution, transitioning from smuggling to weapon transfers, and eventually evolving into elaborate attack tunnels.
The genesis of these tunnels traces back to 1982, spurred by the peace agreements between Israel and Egypt, leading to the division of Rafah between Gaza and Egypt. Local miners initially dug tunnels, reuniting families and facilitating trade. By 2000, escalating tensions during the second Intifada led to an uptick in tunneling activities, catering to illegal arms smuggling and posing a challenge for the IDF.
Israel’s withdrawal in 2005 mistakenly diminished the perceived threat, reducing investments in countering the tunnels. Simultaneously, Hamas seized the opportunity, expanding its underground activities and strengthening its arsenal. The Egyptian border facilitated this growth, with profits from smuggling supporting Gaza’s armament against Israel. Gaza’s geological composition, particularly in the southern region, provided stable conditions for tunneling, further aiding Hamas’ endeavors.
Hamas’ relentless pursuit of innovation led to deeper, larger, and more sophisticated tunnels. Infrastructure proximity, including electricity and water, streamlined their efforts. Detection methods, though available, proved challenging due to the tunnels’ small cross-sectional spaces, eluding conventional surveillance.
The Hamas takeover in 2007 marked a turning point, ushering in an era of comprehensive guerilla-terror warfare. Strategic tunnels, some stretching hundreds of meters into Israel, became the focal point. The integration of the underground realm into all aspects of warfare, including logistics and defense, posed a formidable challenge for the IDF.
In essence, the intricate interplay of geological conditions, strategic evolution, and relentless innovation propelled Hamas’ tunnel network. This nuanced understanding is crucial for devising effective counter-strategies in the face of this multifaceted threat.