by Susan Katz Keating
The Hamas terror group used an old Bedouin tunnel network to smuggle weapons and fighters from Gaza for the Oct. 7 attack on Israel, a defense officer told Soldier of Fortune.
“It is one of many ways they launched their attacks,” said the officer, who is on active duty with a foreign country. The officer spoke to Soldier of Fortune on background on Tuesday while attending the annual meeting of the Association of the United States Army.
Israeli officials said on Oct. 10 that the country’s death toll has surpassed 1,000 from the attacks by Hamas that began on Saturday. The Pentagon told reporters that the attacks, which include massacres of civilians, are “ISIS-level savagery.”
READ MORE: Pentagon says Hamas inflicting “ISIS-level savagery” on Israel
While questions continue to center on how the attackers were able to take Israel and the West by surprise, one partial answer can be found underground, the foreign official said.
“Israel has destroyed many of these,” the foreign officer said. “But the tunnels go on for miles. They are very deep and not always easy to find.”
An Israel Defense Forces unit specializing in underground warfare revealed last year that it had found a tunnel that went 230 feet into the Earth – the deepest ever found.
“This is the deepest Hamas tunnel we have discovered, and it’s an asset to them,” said an officer with the elite Yahalom unit. The unit destroyed that and other tunnels. “Yahalom” means “diamond” in Hebrew.
The entire underground system is known informally as the “‘Metro.” The network of tunnels and bunkers runs to and from residential areas in Gaza.
“Hamas terrorists use the ‘Metro’ for storing weapons, shielding themselves, and executing attacks,” the Israel Defense Forces said.
The tunnels include outlets to the Meditteranean Sea, from where supplies can be delivered, the IDF said.
The underground passageways were first dug in the early 1980s by Bedouins who smuggled goods between Gaza and Egypt.
The smugglers dug their tunnels from the basements of their houses in Gaza to a depth of about 15 meters, headed south for a few dozen meters, and then resurfaced on the Egyptian side of the border, “often in a relative’s house, grove, or chicken coop,” wrote Nicolas Pelham in an essay for a journal that writes about Palestine.
The tunnels were a commercial highway, and were so pervasive that authorities in Gaza regulated how they were built and used, Pelham wrote.
Over the years, the tunnels were increasingly adapted to military purposes. Palestinian terrorists smuggled weapons from Egypt into Gaza, according to the Israel Defense Forces.
In one infamous incident, terrorists in 2006 dragged wounded Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit into a tunnel and brought him to Gaza. The captors held him for five years before releasing him as part of a prisoner exchange.
In the past decade, Hamas has “spent millions of dollars on digging an underground tunnel network underneath civilian homes in Gaza,” the IDF said in a video.
“The tunnels were originally used by Hamas operatives to hide after firing rockets at Israel,” the IDF said, noting that the group connected its smaller chambers “until they became a complex underground system allowing terrorists to hide, train, and transport weapons.”
Finding and destroying the tunnels has been the work of the Yahalom, an elite unit within the Combat Engineering Corps. The group most recently worked with other units in order to collapse the underground structures.
Hamas is the governing authority of Gaza. It does not recognize Israel’s right to exist, and has been designated as a terrorist group by the U.S. and European Union governments, among others.
Susan Katz Keating is the Publisher and Editor in Chief of Soldier of Fortune.