The Israeli military has been “astonished” by the size and quality of the tunnels Hamas has built under Gaza, according to an article published in the New York Times on Tuesday.
The tunnel network was originally estimated to include 250 miles (400 km) of underground passages and bunkers. Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has since revised these estimates to 350-450 miles (560-725 km) or more.
Two officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there were close to 5,700 separate shafts leading into the tunnels under Gaza. None of the numbers could be independently verified, however.
It could take “years” to disable the tunnels, one Israeli official told the Times. They need to be mapped, checked for Israeli captives, and “made irreparable,” he said, acknowledging that the recent attempts to destroy the tunnels by flooding them with seawater “have failed.”
According to another official, Israel is using a “triangle” model to locate the tunnels, which assumes they will be found under any hospital, school or mosque in Gaza.
The Israeli military has underestimated the “extent and importance” of the tunnels to Hamas, which the Times described as an “intelligence failure.”
The IDF has not disclosed the number of soldiers killed and wounded in tunnel warfare. Officially, almost 190 soldiers have been killed and 240 or so seriously wounded in the fighting since the start of the ground campaign in Gaza.
One soldier, who spoke with the Times on condition of anonymity, said that he took had taken part in destroying about 50 tunnels in Beit Hanoun, in the northeast of Gaza. All of them were rigged with bombs and other explosives, wired to be activated remotely.
The militant group Hamas, which maintains de facto control over Gaza, struck at nearby Israeli settlements on October 7, claiming the lives of approximately 1,200 Israelis. Another 240 were taken into the Palestinian enclave as captives. Israel responded by declaring war on Hamas and launching air and artillery strikes on Gaza, followed by ground troops in November.
Almost 24,000 Palestinians have been killed and another 60,000 wounded in the first 100 days of fighting, according to the Gaza health ministry.
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