The IDF has completed the construction of the underground concrete wall between Israel and the Gaza Strip, as part of the effort to prevent terrorists from crossing into Israel via cross-border tunnels.
The concrete wall is just one component in the 60 km.-long barrier, which also includes a fence above the ground, advanced sensors both above and underground, and cutting-edge technologies meant to tackle the tunnel threat and stop terrorist infiltrations.
Senior IDF sources told The Jerusalem Post that almost 95% of the barrier has been completed, and that it will be operational in the near future.
Hamas is believed to have a complex underground tunnel system throughout the Gaza Strip, which will be used to attack Israeli soldiers in a future ground battle inside the Strip. As a result, the IDF is preparing its soldiers for a combination of above-ground and below-ground warfare.
The Engineering Corps’s elite Yahalom Unit and others are said to have learned from IDF experiences, and are believed to master all the necessary skills to control the underground sphere.
This development comes as the IDF’s Southern Command and 162nd Division recently completed preparations and a series of exercises ahead of a possible confrontation with Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip.
Over the past few years, both the Southern Command and the 162nd Division have worked to understand and analyze the characteristics of a future Gaza confrontation based on the experience of its units in Operation Cast Lead in 2009, Operation Protective Edge in 2014, and intelligence that is constantly being collected in Gaza.
All of those were assembled into one book that was dubbed the “Purple Book,” the color of the IDF’s Givati Brigade, one of the leading units in the Southern Command that played a significant role in past operations in the Gaza Strip. The “book” is an instruction manual for commanders that serves as a basis of how to operate in a war, and what tools should be used to overcome the expected challenges.
The main premise of the Southern Command is that most of the combat in the Gaza Strip will take place in urban areas, which are densely populated. Hamas and PIJ have embedded their weapons and rocket launchers deep inside civilian areas, including in private homes. It is also believed that marketplaces and other venues for social activities are located above tunnels with strategic significance. That way, Hamas hopes to deter the IDF from attacking the tunnel entrances.
On Thursday, the IDF completed the week-long “Stretched String” exercise, which aimed to prepare all Southern Command officers for future combat.
The exercise took place in a mock Palestinian city at the Ground Forces training base in Tze’elim, in the Negev.
The urban warfare facility was converted to look like a typical Gazan town, which includes tunnel shafts scattered in random places and hidden rocket launchers. Buildings in the facility were decorated like typical Gazan homes – with IEDs planted inside them.
“We did that so the commanders would see – with their own eyes – how these things look,” said Givati Brigade commander Col. Itzik Cohen. “The battalion commanders and their deputies probably know how Gaza looks from the inside. But the company and platoon commanders, who joined the army in the past six-seven years, never saw Gaza. I want them to know what an exit hole of a rocket launcher looks like these days,” referring to a special foam Hamas uses to hide its missiles and to keep them safe in all types of weather.
During the drill, the units exercised various scenarios and different phases of an operation: from getting to Gaza, which requires handling IEDs, anti-tanks missiles, and operatives hiding in tunnels, to clearing areas from operatives and setting up positions inside urban areas.
Recently, Givati completed a major transition, and the entire battalion is qualified to operate with the advanced Namer armored personnel carrier (APC).
A major component of the future battle is that no armored vehicle – whether it’s a tank or an APC – will operate by itself. They will move in pairs, in which each armored vehicle will use its advantages to protect the other.
“When we arrive, we want to attack in punches,” Cohen said. “Like a cobra attacking with its teeth, we want to have quick, sharp, and strong parallel efforts to attack the enemy.”
One of the IDF’s main goals in a future war will be to destroy terrorist infrastructure, especially facilities that are used by Hamas to increase its firepower. This task will be mainly given to the Air Force.
Due to reorganization efforts, the Southern Command and the 162nd Division created a mechanism in which battalion commanders can request IAF assistance to attack enemy targets and receive the air support in a short period of time.
During the drill, the units practiced neutralizing threats in multi-story buildings. In order to do so, the ground forces – which start from the bottom and work their way up – practiced using a common language and directing choppers to hit sniper squads located in the higher stories of the building.
Preparations for a new conflict comes as organizations in Gaza face an intensifying economic crisis. The $360 million in Qatari aid to Gaza is expected to help Hamas keep its head just above water, but no more than that.
Senior army officials believe that due to this crisis, and because Hamas understands the price it will pay in a future confrontation with the IDF will lead to the devastation of its infrastructure, the terrorist group is currently avoiding escalating the situation.
The IDF also took an operative decision to prevent the PIJ, which is considered a recalcitrant organization that acts on its own, from taking decisions and dragging the entire region into another round of violence.
On the other hand, there are incidents when Hamas tries to undermine Israeli sovereignty near the border. In January, Hamas snipers shot at an IDF force operating on the perimeter.
This illustrates how delicate the situation is, and how one small incident can potentially develop into a larger operation.