The war between Israel and Hamas has entered a new phase, according to analysts, as in recent days operations have focused on destroying the tunnels used by the terrorist organization. More than a month after the events of October 7, which triggered the new crisis in our region, it has become clear that we are still far from the end of hostilities, as Israel does not intend to stop until it has largely neutralized its capabilities Hamas, so that it ceases to be an existential threat, while the question of Benjamin Netanyahu’s political future is also existential, to some extent, especially if at some point the conditions are created to start discussions on a political solution.
In any case, it is clear to everyone (and understood by the international community to a large extent) that there cannot be any compromise while the hostage issue continues. “There will be no ceasefire without the release of our hostages,” the Israeli Prime Minister clarified again, when it became known that Qatar was negotiating with Hamas for the release of some hostages. In addition to the “humanitarian pauses”, as he calls them, to move the population, he is expected to continue the hammering until he is satisfied that the danger to the lives of Israeli citizens now and in the future has been removed.
But Hamas, unlike ordinary Palestinians who suffer from the wrath of war, is in no particular hurry to end the hostilities. Its officials – not exactly known for their humanitarian approach to war and the protection of the civilian population – say they have successfully brought attention back to the Palestinian cause and support “an endless conflict” with Israel, while dreaming of further expansion. “I hope the state of war with Israel will become permanent on all borders and that the Arab world will stand by us,” one official said recently. And while the international community is concerned about the losses and injuries for the common people, who are trapped in the Gaza Strip, they themselves treat it more as the theater of their battles. As one of them explained, Hamas’ goal is not to rule Gaza and they did not seek to improve the situation there. “This battle is to completely reverse the situation,” he stressed.
Destroying the tunnels is no easy task, even for an experienced military like Israel’s. On the one hand because it is an extremely well protected labyrinth and on the other hand because there are people living above the underground tunnels, with the death toll increasing day by day and with it increasing international pressure on Tel Aviv. Analysts estimate that the process will be time-consuming. As Reuters explains, Hamas has built an underground city under Gaza, which is estimated to be hundreds of kilometers in size and 80 days deep in some cases. According to the Israeli military, many of the tunnels, as well as operations centers, rocket launchers and other military capabilities, have been placed in or near places with a clear humanitarian orientation, such as hospitals and schools. As a former security official told the agency, operations in the network of tunnels will have to proceed even more slowly because it is believed that the Israeli hostages are being held there.
As described by the Israeli authorities, the “Hamas subway” consists of large tunnels, which are connected to places such as hospitals, in which there are communication rooms, munitions factories, living quarters and everything needed to move and protect the fighters. And these underground capabilities are also considered the greatest source of power of Hamas, hence their destruction is currently a priority.
As Foreign Affairs writes, in order to maintain its strategic advantage, Israel will have to avoid underground fighting. Destroying the tunnel network is more the job of the air force than the ground forces, whose main task is to stabilize the results of air strikes and make sure that underground targets are indeed badly damaged. They also gather valuable intelligence and try to kill Hamas leaders who escaped the airstrikes. History has taught us that achieving such goals is time-consuming and unfortunately bloody.
In this context, Hamas has the upper hand, comments Foreign Affairs. It has perfected underground trafficking, communication and survival, effectively neutralizing the Israeli military’s advantage in this area. There are no planes, no tanks, and no modern communication systems in the undergrounds, reducing the differences in knowledge, technology and training between the two warring sides. Most advanced militaries are concerned about tunnels because the unknown affects all aspects of a military operation, from the ability to secure terrain to intelligence gathering. Also, these underground structures negate the investment of modern armies in technology and bring back hand-to-hand combat.
“Bulldozers can be used to uncover the tunnels during ground operations. Drones, robots and dogs can help clean up. There may be a need to enter the tunnels to rescue hostages as a last resort. But the ground attack will not destroy Hamas’s underground military apparatus. This work must be done mainly from the air,” explains the magazine, which emphasizes that destroying the underground network is Israel’s most difficult and extremely important mission today.