Hamas is increasingly using sensitive civilian facilities in Gaza to protect its military assets from being targeted by Israel, ahead of a further round of conflict. It is also digging dozens of “terror tunnels” into Israel, The Times of Israel has learned.
Gaza’s Islamist rulers have been placing rocket launching pads next to water reservoirs, and attaching reconnaissance cameras to mosque minarets and water towers, The Times of Israel was told, in a bid to avoid IAF airstrikes during an upcoming round of confrontation.
The IDF has noticed a recent shift in Hamas’s strategy: While actively preventing rocket launches toward Israel by rogue groups in the Gaza Strip, the Islamist organization – which violently took control of the territory in 2007 and has ruled it ever since – is investing its limited resources digging tunnels leading into Israel for the purposes of a large-scale terror attack or a kidnapping modeled after that of Gilad Shalit in June 2006. At the same time, Hamas still maintains a large number of locally manufactured M-75 rockets, which can reach Tel Aviv and beyond.
The 2009 Goldstone Report – commissioned by the United Nations to investigate the Gaza war, known in Israel as Operation Cast Lead, that year – blasted Israel for targeting the Maqadmeh Mosque in Gaza’s Jabaliya neighborhood, killing 15 people and wounding 40. Goldstone initially accused Israel of deliberately targeting civilians, a claim he retracted in 2011. Israel said at the time that Hamas was firing rockets into Israel from positions adjacent to schools and mosques, and storing ammunition in or close to schools and mosques as well.
Dozens of tunnels are currently being dug into Israel, the IDF estimates, at a cost of over $1 million per tunnel. One such tunnel exposed last October, from Khan Yunis to Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha, ran for 1,700 meters (1 mile) and contained over 500 tons of cement arches. The men employed in the digging of the tunnels belong to the Izz Ad-Din Al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s military wing.
Both Hamas and Islamic Jihad are maintaining the understandings reached with Israel following Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012. Since that brief war, the number of rockets fired at Israel from Gaza has dropped dramatically: forty-seven rockets, none of which was fired by Hamas. Last year, Hamas established a special unit comprising hundreds of soldiers to prevent rocket fire at Israel by breakaway factions of Islamic Jihad and other insubordinate groups in the territory.
On Tuesday, Hamas deployed its anti-launching unit along the border with Israel, following a recent escalation in the Strip that included rocket attacks on Israel and retaliations by the Israeli Air Force. Anticipating further attacks from Gaza, the southern city of Ashdod canceled school on Monday, leaving 4,000 pupils at home.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday warned Gaza’s Hamas rulers not to forget past lessons, alluding to Israel’s decisive showings in the two recent rounds of violence
“We foil terrorist attacks when we identify that they are in the making and we respond against those who attack us,” Netanyahu said. “If Hamas and the other terror organizations forgot this lesson, they will learn it again the hard way and very soon.”
Spencer Ho contributed to this report.