During a news conference at the Israeli Defense Ministry July 28, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed that Operation Protective Edge will not end 'without neutralizing the tunnels, the sole purpose of which is the destruction of our civilians and the killing of our children.' (GIL COHEN MAGEN/AFP)
TEL AVIV — Israel is expanding its anti-tunnel ground campaign in Gaza along with standoff air, sea and land attacks in a high-intensity bid to bolster the operational conditions to drive an eventual diplomatic truce with Hamas.
Citing repeated violations by Hamas of various Egyptian, US and UN ceasefire proposals, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to continue Operation Protective Edge — now in its 21st day — until it “neutralizes” the tunnel threat.
“We will not complete the operation without neutralizing the tunnels, the sole purpose of which is the destruction of our civilians and the killing of our children,” Netanyahu told reporters July 28.
Speaking at the Israeli Defense Ministry just hours after Israeli forces foiled the fourth underground infiltration since the July 7 start of the ongoing operation, Netanyahu said the anti-tunnel mission must be viewed as the first step toward demilitarization of the Gaza Strip.
“This is the clear and unequivocal objective of the state of Israel and the need for it has been apparent again today,” Netanyahu said.
Israeli leaders say the operation will continue to target rocket launchers, Hamas leaders and other symbols and institutions of the Gaza-based regime. Nevertheless, they say the focus is shifted to the subterranean labyrinth supporting command centers, storage sites and staging grounds for cross-border assaults.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) claims it has detected 31 tunnels in recent days, 15 of which have been completely destroyed. Multiple shafts and access points service each tunnel, an IDF intelligence officer here said. , with most openings concealed in residential homes, mosques and civilian buildings.
Once tunnels are detected, the mission becomes a combined arms operation involving infantry, combat engineers, and special explosive-ordnance disposal teams.
“We’re going access point by access point, tunnel by tunnel, engagement after engagement,” Lt. Gen. Beni Gantz, IDF chief of staff, told reporters here July 28. ■