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Hamas tunnels essential to the terror group’s power - military expert

Urban warfare expert John Spencer participated in two field visits to Israel

A Palestinian fighter from the Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of the Hamas movement, gestures inside an underground tunnel in Gaza, August 18, 2014. (Photo: REUTERS/Mohammed Salem)

The Hamas terrorist organization has elevated the importance of tunnel networks to unprecedented levels in the history of warfare, a prominent U.S. military expert explained recently.

John Spencer, chair of Urban Warfare Studies at West Point, participated in two field visits to Israel and later summarized his findings of the Hamas tunnel network in Gaza in a detailed analysis. He also assessed the IDF's military efforts in neutralizing and dismantling Hamas’ vast tunnel network, nicknamed the “Gaza Metro.”

Spencer noted that many nations throughout history have used tunnels in their overall warfare strategy. Superpowers like the United States and China have invested billions of dollars in fortified bunkers and tunnel systems.

However, he stressed that Hamas was the first entity in history to use a tunnel network to elevate both its military and political power.

“For the first time in the history of tunnel warfare... Hamas has built a tunnel network to gain not just a military advantage, but a political advantage, as well,” Spencer wrote.

“But more importantly than the scale of the tunnels in Gaza, the Israel-Hamas war is the first war in which a combatant has made its vast underground network a defining centerpiece of its overall political-military strategy.”

Israel has been aware of Hamas’ tunnel network for years - but the ongoing war has exposed the vastness and sophistication of the network, which has surprised Israeli and international experts.

According to newly revised estimates, the Hamas tunnel network measures between 350 and 450 miles and includes some 5,700 shafts. If correct, it is longer than the London Underground, a city-wide subway system.

This is an extraordinary subterranean infrastructure given that the size of the Gaza Strip is merely 141 square miles (365 square km). Spencer estimates that Hamas has invested at least $1 billion in its vast tunnel network over the past decade.

Furthermore, Spencer said the majority of these terror tunnels are deliberately built into civilian areas to use Gazan civilians as human shields, making it much more difficult for Israel to target terrorists.

“Almost all of Hamas’ tunnels are built into civilian and protected sites in densely populated urban areas. Much of the infrastructure providing access to the tunnels is in protected sites. This complicates discriminating between military targets and civilian locations – if not rendering it entirely impossible – because Hamas does not have military sites separate from civilian sites,” Spencer explained.

The military expert noted that the Israeli military has considerable capabilities in detecting and neutralizing these tunnels, but stressed that the challenge is immense due to Hamas' coercive tactics.

“Hamas is globally known for using human shields, which is the practice of using civilians to restrict the attacker in a military operation. The group wants as many civilians as possible to be harmed by Israeli military action,” Spencer wrote on 𝕏.

In January, he also wrote that Israel has done more to protect civilian lives than any other military in history.

“Israel has implemented more measures to prevent civilian casualties than any other military in the history of war. While some have argued Israel could have waited longer, used different munitions, or not conducted the war at all – [they] all [failed] to acknowledge the context of Israel’s war… [they are overlooking] the hostages, rockets, tunnels, existential threat of Hamas, and more.”

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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