Several sources within the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) say it will be unable to destroy most of Hamas’s tunnel network under Gaza. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pledged the Israeli military will eliminate Hamas and rescue the Israeli captives in Gaza. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that Tel Aviv will be unable to achieve either goal.
IDF officials at all levels, including generals, say destroying the tunnel network is impossible. “The Israel Defense Forces will not destroy all the Hamas and Islamic Jihad tunnels under Gaza. Probably not even most of them,” Haaretz reports. “The IDF is scaling down its forces in Gaza City with full knowledge that many tunnels have been overlooked. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. The tunnels under the Gaza Strip were there even before Hamas’ founding in 1987 and it seems they’ll be here after this war too.”
The Israeli outlet explains that the Israeli military command was surprised by the extent of the tunnel network beneath Gaza. “Only gradually did the IDF realize that the tunnel network was much more extensive than it had previously understood and that their main use by Hamas was not for launching arsenals, but for preserving its forces.” The Haaretz article continues, “Another assumption that was proven wrong was that it would be enough to control the ground above for a few weeks for Hamas fighters, starved of food, water and oxygen to be forced to emerge.”
The incorrect assessment of the tunnels is just one of many Israeli intelligence failures highlighted since October 7. Israeli officials had the Hamas plans for what ultimately became the October 7 operation over a year before the attack. During the months leading up to the attack, several different sources attempted to alert Tel Aviv to a growing threat in Gaza.
The New York Times reported that Tel Aviv initially believed Hamas controlled 250 miles of tunnels. That number is now assessed to be close to 450 miles. Haaretz reported that one IDF commander discarded the maps he was given and dismissed the intelligence as useless.
The US estimates that Israel has killed 5,000 to 7,500 Hamas fighters. The Wall Street Journal reports the group has begun to reestablish its presence in areas of northern Gaza ostensibly cleared by the IDF.
Haaretz provides details on how the tunnel network allows Hamas to move assets around Gaza. “Not only were the tunnels stocked with provisions for a prolonged siege, they provided safe passage between different parts of the city and the Strip,” the outlet states. “The IDF claimed to have destroyed Hamas’ regional battalions only to find fighters from those battalions turning up in other areas. And when signs of the presence of hostages were discovered in the tunnels, they had by then been moved to other tunnels.”
The acknowledgment of the IDF’s inability to take out Hamas’s infrastructure comes as several reports have documented that Israel will be unable to achieve its military objectives in Gaza: rescue the hostages and eliminate Hamas.
“A day will come when the Israeli security establishment will have to admit that destroying the tunnel networks was never a realistic objective. The IDF can perhaps deal with the prospect of a threat from underground, but the tunnels will remain beneath Gaza,” Haaretz notes.