By D. Bender
The IDF’s Yahalom “Diamond” special engineering unit, which focused on finding and destroying Hamas tunnels in Gaza during the summer’s Operation Protective Edge, will be upgraded in size and mission scope due to growing concerns of possible Hezbollah attack tunnels from Lebanon, Israel’s NRG News reported Tuesday.
The army’s General Staff on Monday announced that it had appointed a lieutenant colonel to head expanded conscript and reserve forces, due to the greater manpower required to search, find and destroy such tunnels on both borders.
“Lt.-Col. Yaron Ben-On was appointed commander of Yahalom unit,” the IDF said in a statement.
Among the many lessons learned in an internal military audit of the 51-day operation, meant to thwart both rocket fire from above and Hamas terror squads from below, was the lack of an clear doctrine on how to deal with the lengthy concrete tunnels, many with numerous branches and extensive warfare and survival equipment, according to a senior officer in the Southern Command.
Only a few days after the beginning of the operation did the IDF begin comprehensive training for its forces in finding and dealing with the hidden and often booby-trapped entrance shafts and warrens of tunnels.
In Gaza, while the army succeeded in uncovering and destroying 32 such tunnels, Hamas has bragged that it is rebuilding them, and the terror organization may be exploiting European Union (EU) funds to that end.
EU parliament member, Arne Gericke, noted in November of last year that a European Court of Auditors report charged that over 2.5 percent of the EU budget for external relations, aid and enlargement had been misappropriated.
If that percentage is applied to the more than $560 million (€450m) pledged to Gaza, that means nearly $14.7 million (€11.7m) could end up in Hamas’s hands.
As well, both the IDF and northern residents are concerned that Hezbollah in Lebanon may have also succeeded in tunneling into Israel.
Last September, a resident in Moshav Zarit decided to stop asking others to investigate the potentially catastrophic situation, and hired a contractor to begin boring test holes, to see what may be awaiting them from below.
“The army knows all this and is not doing anything,” Kobi Cohen told Channel 10 News.
“The army should have already started digging with a D9 tractor, but, instead of providing answers, is leaving us in fear,” Cohen complained.
However, despite strong contentions by civilians in some communities close to the Lebanese border, the IDF has – so far – maintained they have not found evidence of such tunnels crossing the border through the rocky, hilly terrain.
In August, the IDF began investigating two proposed systems – both of which were tried and rejected in 2005 – according to reports, which have worked in laboratory conditions, and are supposedly able to detect both already-dug tunnels, as well as those in progress.
One of the systems, priced at roughly NIS 1-1.5 billion (USD 380-428 million) includes a metal plate extending down some 30-40 meters into the groundwater layer beneath the sandy, clayey soil around Gaza.
The system would take upwards of a year-and-a-half to implement, along the 65-kilometer border, the army said, but it was unclear if the system would be effective in the mountainous terrain along the far longer northern border, which stretches from the sea to the Golan Heights.
During the 2006 Second Lebanon War against the Shiite terror group, the IDF sustained heavy casualties from militants that would emerge from such well-hidden and equipped Iranian-built tunnels to strike tank forces, and then successfully escape.
“There is a lot of talk about it and concern,” one anonymous source told Israel’s Channel 2 News at the beginning of August, after Kiryat Shmona Mayor Nissim Malka sent a letter to Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon asking him to examine the issue as soon as the violence in the south subsided.
Residents “have complained of hearing noises coming from under the ground. I have heard these complaints several times, but yesterday, when I came back from a tour of the Gaza border communities, I understood,” Malka wrote.
“If this is what they did in the South, I am certain [Hezbollah leader Hassan] Nasrallah is not sitting idly and giving out candy,” Malka warned.
Watch an IDF video of the Yahalom unit in action in Gaza, in which they found weapons in an attack tunnel HERE.