Seven weeks into Israel’s floor operation in Gaza, one of many key challenges dealing with the Israeli army is the labyrinth of Hamas tunnels that it says spans the whole lot of the Strip.

In an effort to destroy the underground community, Israel has begun flooding a few of Gaza’s tunnels with seawater, a US official instructed CNN on Tuesday, including that the Israelis are “fastidiously testing out” the strategy “on a restricted foundation.”

If profitable, flooding could possibly be ramped as much as degrade the tunnel community on a bigger scale.

The strategy, nevertheless, is troublesome and controversial. Even when applied with enough quantities of water at excessive sufficient stress, it could show solely partially profitable. It additionally dangers contaminating freshwater provides and damaging no matter infrastructure stays on the floor.

For the Israeli authorities, it additionally dangers killing hostages nonetheless held by Hamas in Gaza, a lot of whom are believed to be underground.

The Israelis are not sure whether or not the strategy will work, the American official said, however they assured the US that they’re being cautious to solely check it in tunnels the place they don’t consider hostages are being held.

CNN has reached out to the Israeli army for remark.

A spokesperson for Hamas on Thursday stated the group had constructed its tunnels to resist doable makes an attempt to pump water into them.

“The tunnels have been constructed by well-trained and educated engineers who thought of all doable assaults from the occupation, together with pumping water,” Hamas spokesperson Osama Hamdan instructed a information convention within the Lebanese capital Beirut.

The tunnels nevertheless have additionally acted as an financial lifeline for Gaza’s residents, transporting folks, items and generally even American quick meals amid a 17-year blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt.

An Israeli soldier stands in an underground tunnel in Gaza City on November 22. - Victor R. Caivano/AP

An Israeli soldier stands in an underground tunnel in Gaza Metropolis on November 22. – Victor R. Caivano/AP

A device of warfare

Tunnels have traditionally been used as a device of warfare. They have been utilized by the French within the interwar interval, by al Qaeda within the mountains of Afghanistan and by the Viet Cong within the jungles of Southeast Asia.

Hamas’ tunnels are distinctive, nevertheless. They’re “very revolutionary of their depth, of their sophistication, of their mining, of their trapping,” stated Danny Orbach, a army historian on the Hebrew College of Jerusalem.

The subterranean construction is allegedly constructed beneath a lot of the Gaza Strip – a densely populated territory that’s residence to greater than 2 million folks – and by some accounts reaches a few hundred ft underground.

Hamas’ tunnels can be large enough to suit grownup fighters, weaponry, items and even vehicles, based on specialists and pictures launched by the group. Some are strengthened with thick cement partitions or are separated by metallic doorways, and never all of them are linked, specialists say.

The dimensions of the Israeli army’s checks is unclear: how a lot water and the way a lot stress it’s utilizing to flood the tunnels it and even which tunnels it’s focusing on.

For the operation to succeed, the stress with which the water is pumped into the tunnels must be excessive sufficient to destroy not solely the cement partitions, but additionally the thick, metallic doorways separating a few of them.

On the very least, Orbach says, the flooding operation may pressure Hamas militants to maneuver inside the tunnels, which might assist Israeli intelligence in figuring out militants and probably hostages.

There’ll seemingly be issues

The strategy of shutting down tunnels by flooding them isn’t new for Israel or Gaza.

In an effort to close a few of the tunnels allegedly constructed by Hezbollah on the Israel-Lebanon border, the IDF in 2018 flooded them with cement, which ended up spilling out onto the floor within the southern Lebanese village above the construction.

Equally, Egypt in 2013 started flooding tunnels operating beneath its shared border with Gaza, using seawater, sewage water and cement to halt what it stated was the smuggling of weapons by Islamist insurgents from the Strip into its Sinai Peninsula.

The water that flooded the tunnels rose to the surface, destroying crops, contaminating recent water provides and risking the unfold of illness, Palestinian factions in Gaza later stated.

In 2021, Hamas claimed to have built 500 kilometers (311 miles) of tunnels beneath Gaza. To place that in perspective, the Gaza Strip is simply 41 kilometers lengthy and as much as 12 kilometers large. CNN is unable to confirm Hamas’ claims.

The Israeli army stated this month that it destroyed at least 500 tunnel shafts in Gaza and positioned greater than 800 across the Palestinian enclave. The IDF stated final week that most of the tunnel shafts “have been positioned in civilian areas” and inside civilian constructions.

However the flooding course of may have a devastating affect on the territory, relying on the way it’s executed.

Flooding tunnels beneath populated areas dangers damaging the infrastructure that is still intact within the territory. It additionally dangers contaminating the supply of its freshwater, specialists stated.

Israeli soldiers stand near the opening to a tunnel in Gaza City on November 22. - Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

Israeli troopers stand close to the opening to a tunnel in Gaza Metropolis on November 22. – Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

“I see one drawback with seawater (flooding) for instance,” Orbach stated. “Gaza is a really sandy topography. That signifies that seawater can leak down and destroy the aquifers, the consuming water.”

The territory’s solely freshwater useful resource, the Coastal Aquifer, is already being more and more depleted by over-extraction and contaminated by sewage and seawater infiltration, based on Amnesty International.

The battle has considerably curtailed entry to consuming water, with assist businesses warning that Palestinians are being forced to drink dirty or salty water to quench their thirst, rising dangers of waterborne illnesses.

If the whole community of tunnels is flooded, buildings on prime of them may additionally collapse, Orbach stated, including that the injury could possibly be intensive as a result of so a lot of them are beneath civilian infrastructure.

The aim of the flooding, nevertheless, is probably not to fully destroy the tunnels right now, some specialists stated.

“As a result of the tunnels are so intensive and since so a lot of them are dug beneath infrastructure, buildings and faculties and what not, there’s a need to incapacitate them within the second, even when it doesn’t totally destroy them,” stated Matthew Levitt, director of the Reinhard program on counterterrorism and intelligence at The Washington Institute for Close to East Coverage. The Israelis may work with a post-war governing physique in Gaza about fully dismantling the tunnel community, he added.

“I think about there’s a consideration of how a lot seawater is important to make a tunnel unusable, versus placing folks’s lives in danger,” Levitt stated, referring to the hostages believed to nonetheless be underground in Gaza.

“I feel folks have a imaginative and prescient of flooding the tunnels as pumping a lot water in that the whole tunnel is with out oxygen and simply stuffed with water,” he stated, “and I think about that’s not the case.”

Hostages could also be within the tunnels

Essentially the most urgent concern for many Israelis right this moment is the handfuls of hostages nonetheless in Gaza, with many believed to be held underground.

The Israeli authorities is beneath intense public stress to retrieve the hostages alive.

Leaked audio recordings of a gathering between freed hostages and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this month revealed anger on the prospect of flooding the tunnels.

A freed feminine abductee whose husband stays in captivity is heard on one recording as saying: “And you might be speaking about washing the tunnels with sea water? You’re shelling the route of tunnels within the actual space the place they’re,” referring to heavy bombardment above of the tunnels.

“You set politics above the return of the kidnapped,” the girl provides. Israel believes there are 132 hostages nonetheless in Gaza – of whom 112 are regarded as alive, whereas 20 are believed to be useless, the prime minister’s workplace instructed CNN Friday.

A few of the hostages launched by Hamas in October spoke concerning the tunnel system, describing the construction as a spiderweb.

Adina Moshe, who was dragged from her protected room in Israel and brought to Gaza on October seventh, was compelled into tunnels 5 tales underground, based on her nephew Eyal Nouri.

“The underside line is that Hamas invested super money and time on this infrastructure, which isn’t for the advantage of the folks within the Gaza Strip,” Levitt stated, including that from Israel’s perspective, it stays one of the vital essential military-critical infrastructure targets. “So, by one means or one other, one can definitely count on that Israelis are going to be trying to disable the Hamas tunnel system.”

CNN’s Hamdi Alkhshali, Joshua Berlinger, Natasha Bertrand and Donald Judd contributed to this report.

For extra CNN information and newsletters create an account at

Right this moment Information Prime Newsmaac


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here