BEIT HANUN, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israel’s military said Sunday it discovered a large tunnel in Gaza, near a once-busy crossing into Israel, raising new questions about how Israeli surveillance failed. Transparent arrangements Hamas responsible for terrorist’s deadly October 7 attack.
The entrance to the tunnel is several hundred meters (yards) from the heavily fortified Erez crossing and the nearby Israeli military base.
The military said it stretches 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) and is connected to an extensive tunnel network across Gaza, wide enough for cars to pass through. The military said on Sunday that the tunnel had facilitated the movement of vehicles, militants and supplies in preparation for the October 7 attack.
Later that day, the militants used rocket-propelled grenades to breach a section of the wall near the Erez crossing and enter the base, killing at least three soldiers and abducting some back to Gaza, the military said. It was one of several locations along the border wall where militants bypassed Israeli security forces and entered Israeli territory, killing about 1,200 people and taking 240 hostages.
According to Palestinian health officials, the unprecedented attack sparked a devastating war. Israel says the destruction of Hamas’ tunnel network is a key objective, with most of the underground network running beneath schools, hospitals and residential areas.
Israel’s military, intelligence and political authorities are there Under heavy criticism For failing to detect an attack early.
Israeli security forces did not know about the tunnel before October 7, as Israeli border guards only found tunnels to enter Israel, said army spokesman Major Nir Dinar.
“As far as I know, this tunnel does not cross from Gaza into Israel and stops within 400 meters of the border, which means that the indicators do not indicate that the tunnel is being built,” Dinar said. The entrance, a circular cement opening leading to a cavernous passageway, is located under a garage, hiding it from Israeli drones and satellite imagery.
Dinar said that while the military knew Hamas had an extensive network of tunnels, they did not think the militants could carry out their plans for a large-scale attack.
“No wonder this was a Hamas strategy all along,” Dinar said. “The surprise is that they have succeeded and the size of this tunnel … was really shocking.”
The fortified Erez crossing, which processed Palestinians into Israel for work, medical care and to visit neighboring Jordan, held great symbolic value for Hamas. The crossing is guarded by massive security cameras and military patrols and a nearby military base. On October 7th, it was heavily damaged and was not opened.
The army said its special “Yahalom” unit, which specializes in tunnel warfare, had dug the tunnel since it was first discovered. They say they found weapons inside.
“At this point, this is the largest tunnel in Gaza,” Chief Army spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari told reporters on a tour of the tunnel’s entrance on Friday.
It is not clear if the tunnel was used on Oct. 7.
The army also showed the reporters the barracks of soldiers at a nearby base, which they said had been set on fire by militants. They looked like furnace ashes, with blackened walls and molten bunkers. The army announced on Friday that the bodies of two soldiers who were working at the site on October 7 had been recovered in Gaza.
Dinar, who visited the tunnel on Friday, said it was twice as tall and three times as wide as other tunnels found in Gaza. He said it was ventilated and powered and equipped with the ability to dive 50 meters (55 yards) underground in some places. He said it was clear that building and maintaining the tunnel required millions of dollars and plenty of fuel and personnel.
Hagari said the army planned to destroy the tunnel and “hunt down” the militants hiding in others.
“Even if we have to go down the tunnel we’ll hunt them down,” Hagari said. “We need to focus on rescuing our hostages and understanding that some of them may be in the tunnel.”