Warfare is typically divided into land, sea, and air domains, but tunnel warfare has been a significant aspect of covert operations for thousands of years. Chinese military theorists, Japanese forces, and Viet Cong guerrillas have all used tunnels to surprise and overwhelm their enemies. The Vietnam War in the 1960s highlighted the importance of tunnel warfare, as Viet Cong guerrillas built an extensive tunnel network to shelter against American airpower.
The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have been bombarding the Gaza Strip and striking parts of secret tunnels built by Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The IDF claims to have destroyed over 100km of tunnels, while Hamas claims the tunnels stretch over 500km. The Israeli military is likely using US-made “Bunker Buster” GBU-28 bombs, which are designed to penetrate hardened targets deep underground and leave massive craters, potentially inflicting large civilian casualties.
The Gaza Strip is home to a layer of civilians and Hamas, with Hamas being more underground. These tunnels serve as Hamas’ defense in depth, hiding weapons, ammunition, and war supplies. A 1.6km-long, 18m-deep tunnel with a concrete roof and walls was discovered by the IDF in 2013. The border between Israel and Gaza is fenced and equipped with sensors for movement detection. However, Hamas launched an attack on October 7th, causing surprise to the IDF.
Tunnels may have played a crucial role in the undetected crossing of Hamas operatives into Israel. The Israeli fence on the Gaza border is 30 feet high and has an underground concrete barrier, making it difficult for Hamas operatives to enter Israel undetected. Hamas’ aim is to humiliate the enemy, show they are incapable of defending civilians and infrastructure, and generate sympathy through images of civilian casualties. Breaking the myth of Hamas’ “State status” and using images of civilian casualties to gain sympathy and defeat the fight is essential.
The recent rocket attack on a hospital in the evacuation zone has sparked further animosity between Israel and Hamas. Both sides refuse to accept responsibility for the casualties, and as the operations continue, public opinion will turn against Israel. The initial sympathy was with Israel after the October 07 terrorist attacks by Hamas into Israel. Urban warfare in Ukraine has taught us several lessons, including the sky above cities, buildings that offer vantage points and hiding places, and collateral damage.
The tunnels beneath the Gaza Strip present the greatest challenge to the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) if they begin their ground offensive. In 2014, the Israeli invasion of Gaza aimed to destroy the tunnels under Gaza, but they proved larger, deeper, and longer than expected, making them almost impervious to airstrikes. Rescuing the hostages without killing their captives will be a supreme test of the IDF’s skills. Technology has limited ability to detect tunnels as deep as 60 feet underground, making them a nightmare for attackers. Clearing and destroying a tunnel network is expensive, time-consuming, and likely to inflict more casualties than an engagement above ground.
Gaza, the world’s densest city with over two million people, presents a complex operation for the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). Hamas terrorists, with sophisticated underground defense systems and excellent communication networks, plan to use Palestinians as human shields and fight the IDF. A billion-dollar project funded by Qatar, known as “Terror Tunnels,” has been funded by Qatar. Protests have spread worldwide over a hospital attack resulting in around 500 civilian casualties, leading to a shift in public opinion against Israel.
President Biden, despite being in favor of Israel, has cautioned against mass civilian casualties. The IDF may use the tunnels to flush out Hamas fighters from their safe hideouts, which may take time. Netanyahu is preparing the people for a sacrifice for lasting peace and the long-term good of Israel and West Asia. With world opinion shifting against Israel, the IDF may need to change its strategy. The Israeli PM has stated that the war will be a long one.
UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has landed in Israel to prevent the Israel-Hamas conflict from escalating. He will hold talks with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Isaac Herzog and urge Middle East leaders to avoid further dangerous escalation. Sunak’s visit comes after US President Biden’s visit to Israel. The UN needs to find a solution to prevent the war from escalating, appeasing the more belligerent Islamic world and population. The current Hamas Trump Card is Israeli hostages and prisoners, but if defeated, disarmament and the establishment of a Palestinian State with defined borders and an elected government under the UN’s aegis could lead to durable peace.