by Anna Ahronheim
“We estimate that there may be more naval tunnels,” a senior officer said.
The IDF has neutralized, for the first time, a naval terror tunnel belonging to the Hamas terrorist organization, the IDF Spokesperson's unit announced Sunday.
The tunnel, which was operational but did not actually extend into Israeli waters, would have enabled militants who would enter from a Hamas military post in the northern Gaza Strip to exit into the sea unnoticed, making it possible to carry out out terrorist acts against the State of Israel from the sea.
The route of the tunnel, which reached a depth of 2-3 meters and was 3 kilometers from the border with Israel, was identified by the IDF as part of a campaign against Hamas’s naval force in the past year.
The tunnel was destroyed on June 3rd by an air strike.
According to a senior naval officer, the Navy knew about the tunnel for several months and it was decided it was the “right time” to destroy it.
“The bottom line is that it was a tunnel that would allow for the departure of Hamas naval commando forces,” the officer said, adding that Hamas invested a great deal of money in it and trained forces in the tunnel.
“We estimate that there may be more such naval tunnels,” the senior officer said.
“The IDF will not allow harm to the security of the State of Israel and will continue to act resolutely against terrorism of all kinds,” read the IDF statement, adding that the military “is determined to continue its mission of protecting the citizens and sovereignty of the State of Israel.”
In February, a senior Naval officer warned that Hamas was increasingly turning to the sea to carry out attacks against IDF troops and Israeli civilians, saying that “Hamas sees potential in the sea like they saw potential in their tunnels.”
According to the senior officer, the Navy estimates that Hamas has civilian underwater motorized scooters which can bring the frogmen out several kilometers to sea.
The Navy has placed more emphasis on training for underwater water infiltrations, and in late May Israel’s Defense Ministry started construction on an underwater barrier which will stretch from the southern Israeli community of Zikim into the Mediterranean to stave off Hamas infiltration by sea.
The barrier, which is expected to be completed by 2019, is made up of three layers, including one below the sea level, a layer of armored stone and a third layer with barbed wire. In addition to the three layers, a fence will surround the breakwater in order to provide a final security measure.
The decision to build the naval barrier was decided upon after five Hamas frogmen (naval commandos) tried to infiltrate
Zikim during Operation Protective Edge in 2014 armed with automatic weapons, fragmentation grenades and several types of explosives devices. They were engaged and killed by the IDF in a combined attack from the sea, ground and air.
Hamas has significantly expanded their naval commando unit in the four years since the last conflict, with a reported 1,500 frogmen. The new barrier, which has been designed to withstand severe sea conditions and serve the defense establishment for many years, is aimed at preventing similar incidents.
"This is the only obstacle of its kind in the world, which will effectively block the possibility of infiltrating into Israel via the sea, and this will further thwart Hamas's strategic capabilities,” said Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman.
The border with Gaza is Israel’s most explosive, and thousands of Palestinians have demonstrated along the Gaza-Israel security fence since March 30. At least 119 have been killed by IDF fire and over 14,000 wounded since the “Great March of Return” began.
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