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Beneath the Surface: Unveiling the Dark Realities Inside Hamas' Tunnels - A Harrowing Perspective


In this insightful analysis, Peter Bergen, CNN's national security analyst, sheds light on the ominous reality of Hamas' tunnels in Gaza, set to be a primary focus of the Israeli offensive triggered by the October 7 terror attack. Dr. Daphné Richemond Barak, an expert on these tunnels, has delved into their intricacies, drawing attention to their potential role in housing fighters, weapons, and hostages.

Dr. Richemond Barak's book, "Underground Warfare," provides a historical context, exploring the military significance of tunnels, reminiscent of their use by the Viet Cong in the Vietnam War and the British in World War I. Her extensive research, spanning a decade, encompasses not only Hamas' tunnel system but also the underground network constructed by Hezbollah, crucial in understanding potential conflicts on Israel's northern border with Lebanon.

When Bergen queries Dr. Richemond Barak about the experience inside a Hamas tunnel, her vivid description paints a haunting picture—a moist, dark, terrifying, and claustrophobic environment where uncertainty lurks around every corner. The harsh conditions include cold temperatures, limited air, and the need for oxygen, particularly for soldiers. The physical constraints of some tunnels heighten the suffocating atmosphere, offering a glimpse into the harsh reality faced by those navigating this subterranean world.

Entering one of Hamas' tunnels entails an unsettling loss of direction, causing disorientation and confusion. The claustrophobic environment, coupled with a distorted sense of time, amplifies the psychological challenges faced by those navigating these subterranean passages. Some individuals struggle significantly with these conditions, further highlighting the harsh realities of tunnel exploration.

Regarding communication within the tunnels, traditional methods like radio are rendered ineffective. Cell phones are impractical due to security concerns, presenting challenges for both Hamas and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in maintaining communication among units underground and with forces above ground.

The evolution of Israel's approach to tunnel warfare dates back to Operation Protective Edge in 2014, a campaign against Hamas. In response to soldiers entering the tunnels without proper training during that operation, Israel recognized the strategic significance of the underground threat. Elite units were established, well-versed in all aspects of underground warfare. Basic training in underground warfare became standard, ensuring soldiers could navigate, neutralize, and equip themselves for tunnel encounters. The IDF also employed simulators with virtual reality goggles to simulate tunnel environments, although it is acknowledged that true experience within an actual tunnel remains irreplaceable. The emphasis on decision-making in challenging scenarios, such as encountering a door within the tunnel, underscores the complexity of subterranean warfare training.

The question of "Why tunnels?" delves into the strategic choice made by Hamas. Tunnels offer a concealed and intricate network, providing advantages in surprise attacks, smuggling, and evading detection. The subterranean environment presents unique challenges, demanding specialized training and equipment for those tasked with navigating and securing these tunnels.

The digging of tunnels by groups like Hamas is a strategic and resource-intensive endeavor. Despite the time and effort required, tunnels serve as a powerful equalizer against a more sophisticated enemy, neutralizing their military capabilities. In the case of Hezbollah's tunnels near Israel's northern border, the hard rock terrain adds to the complexity of tunnel construction.

Tunnels played a pivotal role in the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit by Hamas between 2006 and 2011. Smuggling tunnels were repurposed for this surprise abduction, prompting Israel to reevaluate the significance of these underground passages. Shalit's captivity highlighted the potential strategic impact of tunnels, leading to Israel's heightened concern about the risk of additional soldier kidnappings.

As tensions escalate, the role of tunnels in the current conflict remains significant. Israel recognizes the need to target Hamas' subterranean network to deal a severe blow to its military capabilities. While complete elimination may be deemed impossible, a substantial impact is crucial. The familiarity of Hamas with the underground terrain poses a unique challenge, reminiscent of tactics employed by groups like ISIS in Mosul, Iraq, and Raqqa, Syria, where underground warfare became a last-resort measure.

To achieve the strategic goal of eliminating Hamas' underground military infrastructure, an above-ground incursion is not the preferred method. Instead, specialized forces, including trained dogs, are utilized to navigate the challenging tunnel environment. Robots equipped for wet terrain and capable of traversing ladders or staircases can also play a role. High-pressure water has been considered as a means to cause the collapse of tunnel structures, but it requires caution due to the potential presence of civilians or hostages within the tunnels. Clearing tunnels before employing such methods is essential.

In the case of Hezbollah's tunnels, detecting them poses significant challenges, as illustrated by Operation Northern Shield in 2018. Even with improved detection techniques, it took Israel six weeks to discover six tunnels in hard rock terrain. Despite advanced intelligence and sophisticated detection means, locating tunnels remains a time-consuming process, emphasizing the complexity of subterranean warfare.

In conclusion, the intricate world of underground warfare, as illuminated by Dr. Daphné Richemond Barak, reveals the formidable challenges faced by both Israel and militant groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah. The strategic imperative of eliminating underground military infrastructure underscores the need for innovative approaches. Trained dogs and robots equipped for wet terrain are enlisted to navigate the claustrophobic tunnels, while the consideration of high-pressure water as a disruptive force requires a delicate balance due to potential civilian and hostage presence.

The complexities are further exemplified in the context of Hezbollah's tunnels, where the detection process, even with advanced techniques, remains a time-consuming task in hard rock terrain. Operation Northern Shield's six-week duration to uncover six tunnels serves as a stark reminder of the intricate nature of tunnel warfare.

As the dynamics of conflict evolve, the challenge for nations lies not only in detecting and neutralizing these underground networks but also in doing so efficiently to prevent potential harm to civilians and hostages. The ongoing developments in subterranean warfare underscore the pressing need for a multi-faceted, strategic approach that combines technology, specialized forces, and careful considerations to navigate this challenging and shadowed battlefield.