GOC Southern Command Gen. Eyal Zamir said in a briefing to the media Wednesday that Hamas is being deterred by the IDF, but continues to prepare for the next battle – focusing on developing its tunnel threat.
Speaking in the aftermath of rocket fire from the Gaza Strip into Israel on Tuesday, Zamir said: “There is deterrence, but according to intelligence assessments, Hamas is doing everything to prevent escalation so it can continue to engage in building up for the next battle.”
Two rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, one of which landed in an open area on Israel’s side of the border. Since Passover, four launches have been carried out against Israel, which the IDF describes as being contrary to the will of Hamas and its immediate interest. IDF Intelligence believes that for now Hamas would like to see an escalation in Judea and Samaria, and not in Gaza.
The retaliatory Israeli air strike attempted to damage infrastructure related to the Hamas’ strengthening efforts. According to the Southern Command, Hamas opposes the rocket launches by “rogue organizations” in the Gaza Strip, and even arrested those responsible for the shooting.
“Hamas is making efforts to dig tunnels to infiltrate our territory,” said Zamir, who noted that the intelligence agencies had located the tunnels, but the IDF choses not to attack the Strip now. “The timing is very significant,” he explained, adding, “You don’t attack [right away] every tunnel shaft that you find.”
Zamir presented aerial photographs showing tunnel shafts running under residential buildings located in the heart of civilian populations, less than a mile from Netiv HaAsara, an Israeli moshav in the north-west Negev. He indicated that, if necessary, those buildings will be legitimate bombing targets for the IDF, and the civilian population there should be aware of the danger.
“The directive of the Southern Command is to maintain calm, strengthen the deterrence and give us time to build up our own capabilities,” Zamir said. “The main effort is to improve our war capabilities with the understanding that this is a volatile area.”
Zamir referred to the construction of the new barrier along the Gaza Strip border, which began last May with the aim of preventing infiltration into Israeli territory – on or off the ground. The project includes digging up the entire length of the border, casting concrete and building a high wall to prevent infiltration threats above it. The new construction is the result of the defense establishment’s understanding that despite the immediate warning provided by the electronic fence in cases of individuals climbing or cutting the fence, it does not constitute a significant difficulty in crossing the border.
At the same time, the IDF is employing special equipment that cuts into the ground to tunnel depth and destroys any tunnel that has already been quarried, as well as prevents the possible digging of a future tunnel. Today there are about 10 digging points where concrete is being cast, and by November the work is scheduled to take place at forty points concurrently, in order to complete construction of the barrier according to schedule.
The new barrier will include sensors designed to warn of digging attempts near the fence.