For the past number of years, the Hamas terrorist organization has constructed deep underground tunnels leading from Gaza into Israel and the Sinai desert. The primary purpose of the Gaza-Sinai tunnels is to smuggle in weapons - including missiles and rockets – goods, and people from Egypt into Gaza.
The Gaza-Israel tunnels have a singular, and much more nefarious purpose, namely to serve as a Hamas entry point into Israel in order to kill and kidnap Israeli civilians and soldiers. This method was employed in 2006 when Hamas terrorists entered Israel, killed two Israeli soldiers and kidnapped IDF Corporal Gilad Shalit, holding him hostage for 5 years. In the current round of fighting, Hamas has used tunnels to ambush Israeli soldiers on patrol outside of Gaza, resulting in a number of IDF causalities and a few failed kidnapping attempts.
In response, Israel has engaged in a campaign aimed and uncovering and destroying Hamas' tunnels. Israel has discovered at least 32 individual tunnels and 60 passageways, some of which have been booby-trapped with explosives. Most are difficult to locate, as the access points are hidden deep underneath private homes, clinics and hospitals, mosques and other areas throughout the Gaza Strip. The tunnel entrances are generally located on the bottom floors of buildings, and covered over by floorboards and other deceptive items.
The exit points of the tunnels, inside Israel, have been discovered in the outskirts of kibbutzim and military bases. One was even discovered in a kibbutz dining hall.
The labyrinth of tunnels is quite extensive, with many fully lined with concrete walls and ceilings and wired for electrical use. The IDF estimates that each costs approximately $3 million to construct, requiring the equivalent of 350 truckloads of building supplies – which enter Gaza from Israel through the Kerem Shalom crossing - that otherwise could be used to build homes, schools and other structures throughout Gaza. Inside, Israel has found weapons, handcuffs, sedation syringes and IDF uniforms, all of which suggest that Hamas was planning on using the tunnels to launch a mass-scale operation to infiltrate Israel, and kill and abduct many Israeli civilians and soldiers.
US National Security Advisor Susan Rice justified Israel’s response to the threat posed by Hamas’ tunnels with the following: "No nation can accept terrorists tunneling into its territory or rockets crashing down on its people...Hamas, in a time of glaring human need, instead of investing in the future of Gaza’s children, built tunnels to kidnap and kill Israelis."