The IDF plan to flood the Hamas tunnels under Gaza has been on and then off and now on again. The first reports that this was happening came out last December. At the time there were some videos and indications that this had begun but some outlets reported they were tests. After that I didn’t hear any additional reports for more than a month.
Two weeks ago, the NY Times reported that the Gaza tunnel system had turned out to be even more extensive than previously believed. Instead of 250-300 miles of tunnels, the latest estimate put the total at somewhere between 350 and 450 miles. Remember, this is a narrow strip of land that is only 25 miles long. And almost in passing at the end of that story, the Times added that “attempts to demolish the tunnels by flooding them with seawater have failed.” That seemed to be the end of it.
Today that are multiple reports that the IDF is still flooding the tunnels but only in specific cases.
The Israel Defense Forces said Tuesday that it had been flooding some tunnels in the Gaza Strip with seawater, confirming what had been an open secret for several weeks.
Several IDF units and officials at the Defense Ministry jointly developed “several tools for injecting high-flow water into Hamas tunnels in the Gaza Strip,” the military said in a statement, adding that it is “part of the variety of tools the IDF has for dealing with tunnels.”
The IDF clarified that not all tunnels were being flooded, as the process, which includes attaching pipes and pumps to the shafts, was not suited to all the tunnels and could severely damage some areas.
The Jerusalem Post has some additional details:
While the system has made real contributions to combatting Hamas’s tunnels in some areas, there are many limits, and it is not seen as a solution to the whole tunnel problem by “snapping one’s fingers” type solution…
The flooding system is most effective near the Mediterranean Sea and cannot be used in areas where the IDF has concerns that it could harm the Gaza land in the long term.
Special IDF analysts study different kinds of topography also to see where it is likely to be most valuable in destroying tunnels.
So it sounds like the effort, which has the codename “Atlantis” has only been marginally useful so far. That’s what an update from the NY Times suggests.
The military began experimenting with flooding tunnels only after the war began, according to three military officials with knowledge of the effort, which was code-named Atlantis. The purpose was never to drown Hamas fighters taking refuge in the subterranean network, but rather to flush them out, the officials said.
On the whole, however, the project has had limited success, the officials added. Despite large volumes of water being pumped, many of the tunnels are porous, resulting in seepage into the surrounding soil rather than a deluge through the passageways.
Flooding has not turned out to be a magic bullet for the problem and that’s unfortunate. According to a WSJ story published over the weekend, most of the system remains intact even after months of fighting.
As much as 80% of Hamas’s vast warren of tunnels under Gaza remains intact after weeks of Israeli efforts to destroy them, U.S. and Israeli officials said, hampering Israel’s central war aims…
U.S. and Israeli officials have had difficulty precisely assessing the level of destruction of the tunnels, in part because they can’t say for certain how many miles of tunnels exist. The officials from both countries estimate 20% to 40% of the tunnels have been damaged or rendered inoperable, U.S. officials said, much of that in northern Gaza.
Israel is “thoroughly and gradually dismantling the tunnel network,” the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement. The White House and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment.
Even if you optimistically assume 30% of the tunnel system has been rendered inoperative that could still mean another 6 months or more of fighting before most of it is out of commission. That’s a very long time give all of the other problems that are building up around this invasion. Just to take one example, do we want to be sparring with the Houthis and the Iranians for another 6 months?
For now, Israel says it plans to continue fighting and working to dig up tunnels, but as you can see in this CNN report from yesterday, the media seems very eager to find fault with every move they make while Hamas fighters just continue to lay low underground with their Israeli hostages.