According to captured Hamas documents, on Rosh Hashanah of this year (starting September 24), up to 200 Hamas gunmen were to pour out of each of the dozens upon dozens of terror tunnels, many of which we now know exit inside or very near to Israeli civilian communities.
While the Hamas plan is in scope grand beyond achievability, there is no doubt that an attack of that scale would have resulted in many Israeli casualties, and possibly a number of abductions.
Many of the tunnels uncovered over the past week were found to contain holding rooms where presumably Hamas intended to hide kidnapped Israelis.
A number of the Hamas fighters captured by Israel in recent days have confirmed that the plan was real, and said they had been promised by their leadership that the mass coordinated assault would begin the ultimate defeat of the Zionist enemy.
Israel’s war on Gaza, and in particular the focus on destroying the terror tunnels, severely disrupted Hamas’ plans, which the prisoners said had required some 12 years of preparations.
Israeli soldier in a Hamas tunnel
History of Palestinian Tunnels
Cars, cows, and cigarettes came through what were commonly called smuggling tunnels, although Hamas taxed what it could after it came to power 2006. Cheap Egyptian gasoline kept Gaza going when Israel fuel was too expensive. Weapons and sometimes people travelled through those commercial tunnels too.
Hamas also used a tunnel from Gaza to enter Israel and kidnap an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, in 2006. He was held for five years, until Israel agreed to free more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.
The tunnels to Egypt have been largely shut down in the past year, following the ouster of Egyptian leader Mohammed Morsi, whose Muslim Brotherhood was sympathetic to Hamas. Under the current Egyptian President, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Egypt has bulldozed those tunnels, stifling the already weak Gazan economy.
Heavy flooding last year revealed some. The Israeli military found one last fall near a kibbutz and much bigger one this spring. Extensive Israeli media coverage may have helped cement worry of infiltration in the Israeli public’s mind.
In retaliation, Israel stopped permitting concrete to be brought into Gaza — a concession that had only recently been won.
These militant tunnels are not mole holes. Some are tall enough to stand in, reinforced with concrete and equipped with electricity and phone lines in some cases.
Over the past week, Israel said its troops had at least two separate firefights with militants coming out of tunnels into Israeli territory. The military said weapons, Israeli uniforms, plastic handcuffs, and tranquilizers have been found in tunnels — tools for both potential attacks and potential kidnappings, Israel says.