Author: Captain Sunil Tyagi, Senior Fellow, Centre for Air Power Studies
Keywords: Gaza Tunnels, Israel – Hamas Conflict, Tunnel Warfare
The conflict between Israel and Hamas is deeply influenced by the network of tunnels under Gaza. These subterranean channels are not only pivotal in the conflict’s strategies but also carry a multifaceted history and purpose. A closer examination of these tunnels reveals their profound impact on both the Palestinian and Israeli sides. This article aims to provide an informed and balanced perspective, ensuring a factual and impartial analysis of the tunnels’ significance in the ongoing strife.
History and Purpose of Gaza Tunnels
Origins and Construction of Gaza Tunnels
The network of tunnels beneath Gaza traces its origins to the late 1980s, during the first Intifada. Initially, these subterranean routes were clandestine paths for smuggling essential goods and weapons into the Gaza Strip, circumventing the Israeli blockade. The tunnels, extending from residential areas in Gaza to the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, represented a lifeline for Palestinians under the restrictions.
Constructing these tunnels was an exercise in precision and ingenuity. With simple tools like shovels, pickaxes, and wheelbarrows, Palestinians carved through the sandy earth. To prevent the tunnels from collapsing, they shored up the walls with wooden beams and concrete slabs, ensuring their stability.
The Tunnels’ Evolution
As time passed, the tunnels beneath Gaza underwent a transformation in both function and complexity. While smuggling continued to be a key activity, the tunnels began to serve additional purposes. They became conduits for transporting not just goods but also weapons and explosives, enabling militant groups to bolster their capabilities. Furthermore, these subterranean passages have assumed a strategic role in conflicts. They facilitate covert operations, allowing for unexpected strikes on military positions near the border and enabling undetected entry into neighbouring territories.
The significance of the Gaza tunnels in the context of the conflict is profound. They provide a strategic edge to certain groups while simultaneously presenting complex security challenges. Grasping the historical progression and multifaceted uses of these tunnels is essential for a full understanding of their influence on the ongoing tensions.
Impact of Gaza Tunnels on Palestinians
The presence of Gaza tunnels has had significant humanitarian consequences for the Palestinian population. Palestinians living near these tunnels often face disruptions and dangers in their daily lives. The constant digging and maintenance activities can lead to structural damage to homes, posing risks to the safety and well-being of residents. Moreover, the challenges faced by Palestinians due to the presence of these tunnels extend beyond physical damage. The noise, vibrations, and occasional collapses associated with tunnel construction cause psychological distress and anxiety among the affected communities. Additionally, the fear of potential Israeli military operations targeting these tunnels adds to the overall sense of insecurity.
Economic and Social Implications
Gaza tunnels have profound economic and social implications for Palestinian communities. The economy heavily relies on goods smuggled through these underground passages due to the Israeli blockade imposed on Gaza. While this provides a lifeline for essential supplies, it also perpetuates an informal economy that lacks regulation and proper taxation.
Furthermore, Gaza tunnels contribute to a fragmented social fabric within Palestinian society. They create disparities in access to goods and resources between those involved in tunnel-related activities and others who do not benefit directly from them. This division has led to tensions and inequalities within communities.
It is important to recognise the relationship between Gaza tunnels and the blockade on Gaza. The existence of these tunnels is partially driven by restrictions on imports imposed by Israel, making them a response to economic hardships faced by Palestinians due to limited access to goods through official channels. Therefore, understanding the impact on Palestinians is crucial for comprehending the complexities surrounding this ongoing conflict.
Impact of Gaza Tunnels on Israelis
Hamas has reportedly constructed an extensive network of tunnels in Gaza, spanning 300 miles, which functions as a multifaceted military hub. Israeli sources state that this subterranean network houses command centres, barracks for troops, and facilities dedicated to the production and storage of rockets. The tunnel network in Gaza is remarkably extensive, spanning nearly double the length of the Cu Chi tunnels constructed by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. What sets this network apart is its sheer scale relative to the small area it occupies. Gaza covers an area of only about 140 square miles,
yet it hosts an astonishing two miles of tunnels for every square mile of its territory. This dense concentration of tunnels under such a compact region is a notable aspect of the Gaza Strip’s infrastructure. Gaza tunnels pose a significant threat to Israeli security. These underground passages enable Hamas and other militant groups to smuggle weapons, explosives, and militants into Israeli territory. The ability to bypass traditional security measures creates a constant challenge for Israeli defence forces.
To counter the tunnel threat, Israel has implemented various measures. These include advanced technologies such as underground sensors, seismic detectors, and drones to detect and locate tunnels. Additionally, the Israeli military conducts regular operations to destroy or neutralise these tunnels, aiming to protect its borders and prevent potential attacks.
Psychological and Emotional Impact
The presence of Gaza tunnels has a profound psychological toll on Israelis living near the Gaza border. The constant fear of tunnel attacks can lead to heightened anxiety, stress, and trauma among residents. The uncertainty of when and where an attack may occur creates a pervasive sense of insecurity.
However, despite the psychological challenges they face, Israelis living in these areas also demonstrate resilience. They develop coping mechanisms and support networks within their communities to navigate the ongoing threat posed by Gaza tunnels. This resilience is a testament to the strength of individuals who refuse to let fear dictate their lives.
Understanding the Significance of Gaza Tunnels in the Israel-Hamas Conflict
The role of Gaza tunnels in the Israel-Hamas conflict is complex and multifaceted. These underground passages have become a symbol of resistance for Palestinians, enabling them to overcome the economic and security challenges imposed by the Israeli blockade. However, they also pose significant security concerns for Israel, leading to military operations and heightened tensions.
Addressing the issues surrounding Gaza tunnels requires a comprehensive approach that takes into account the humanitarian, economic, and security aspects of the conflict. Finding a resolution that addresses the root causes and underlying grievances can have a profound impact on easing tensions between Israelis and Palestinians.
Understanding the significance of Gaza tunnels is crucial in navigating towards a peaceful resolution to the Israel-Hamas conflict. By recognising their complexities and exploring potential solutions, we can work towards a more stable and secure future for both Palestinians and Israelis.
 “Gaza Strip – Blockade, Occupation, Conflict” Encyclopaedia Britannica, October 27, 2023, https://www.britannica.com/place/Gaza-Strip/Blockade Accessed on November 2, 2023
 Greg Myre, “The Hamas Tunnels: A Wildcard in the Gaza Fighting,” NPR, November 2, 2023, https://www.npr.org/2023/11/02/1210087629/the-hamas-tunnels-a-wildcard-in-the-gaza-fighting Accessed on 04 Nov 2023