The Israeli army's discovery on Sunday of a Hamas attack tunnel dug into Israeli territory in the western Negev, the second find in six weeks, reflects a shift in the military balance between Israel and Hamas.
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The Gaza group tunnel project was originally conceived as a "detour", a way of trying to deal with Israel's total military superiority over the Palestinians on the terrain. The tunnels were dug under the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel to provide Hamas (and, to a lesser extent, Islamic Jihad, whose tunnel was located and destroyed at the end of October) with the capacity for a surprise attack on Israel. Defense forces and extract a price from Israel.
This strategy was used successfully in the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in 2006 and, to a greater extent, but with more limited success, during the entire Gaza war in the summer of 2014. After that conflict, and very late, the Israeli defense system finally made an advance in the treatment of the tunnels.
Last summer, the construction of an anti-tunnel defensive barrier began along the entire border with the Gaza Strip. The costly project, which according to the latest estimates will cost almost 4 billion shekels ($ 1.14 billion), aims to block the excavation of all future tunnels in Israel, cutting off existing tunnels that pass under the border and help locate new and old excavations.
The first fruits of the new defense, whose construction is expected to end at the end of 2018, are already being seen as a result of the intelligence and technological responses it offers.
The two tunnels that the IDF has just laid out – the Islamic Jihad, one near the Kibbutz Kissufim, and now the Hamas tunnel near the Kibbutz Nirim, were located and destroyed in the border areas where the construction of the barrier has not yet has started.
The IDF now openly states: We have a new method and I know it works really well, and we will continue to use it until the rest of the tunnels are destroyed.
The Israeli intelligence services estimate that there are several border tunnels, but they have not yet been identified, both before the 2014 Gaza war and after But it is now clear that the strategic asset that Hamas developed in Gaza will be gradually denied, given the new operating methods developed by the IDF.
This is the stage at which Hamas will have to reconsider its military strategy and the structure of its military forces, not only with respect to any continued investment in the assault tunnels, but also to the question of whether to hurry the tunnels operatives before the IDF locates them and destroys them as well.
So far, Hamas has not attempted to disrupt the construction of the barrier along the border, which is being built within Israeli territory. This Palestinian moderation stems not only from the lack of international legitimacy for such a movement, but mainly because of fears that a barrier battle will lead to a new war with Israel, of which Hamas has more to lose.
This is because Gazan infrastructure is not working and the serious economic situation in the Strip. Because none of these reasons has changed, it is difficult to see how Hamas can escalate the situation against Israel taking into account its own difficulties.
The situation in the Gaza Strip is influenced by two other events in the diplomatic sphere: one refers to the violent protest by the recognition of the president of the United States, Donald Trump, to Jerusalem as the Israeli capital last week; the other is the ongoing reconciliation efforts between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh may have asked for a new intifada because of Trump's announcement, but that was mainly referring to the territories controlled by the PA in the West Bank. The clashes along the Israel-Gaza border fence during the weekend were of a limited nature. After the Salafi organizations fired some rockets from Gaza into the Negev, Hamas took measures to control the launching of missiles.
For now, another date in the reconciliation agreement has passed without implementation: the arrival of ministers and officials of the PA to the Gaza Strip and then the official opening of the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza. The differences of opinion between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas make it difficult to achieve the goal of reopening this crossing, which is essential for Hamas due to the expectations of its residents.
It is possible that the fear of escalation with Israel will also bring a halt to any reconciliation effort. The elimination of the Egyptian blockade on Gaza will be one of the concerns that the Hamas leadership will have to take into account before risking another wide conflict with Israel.