As Israel considers a possible ground invasion of the Gaza Strip, one of the biggest threats to its troops and the 2.3 million people trapped in the seaside enclave is buried deep underground. An extensive network of tunnels runs underneath the densely populated coastal territory, hiding Hamas fighters and their rocket arsenal.
The Israeli Defence Forces have assembled an extensive system of pumps that may be used to flood the tunnels in a bid to drive out Hamas fighters and suffocate the militant group. According to the Wall Street Journal on Monday, Israel first informed the United States about this option last month. US officials told the newspaper that it is still early days, and they do not know how close Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is to carrying out the plan.
Around the middle of November, Israel’s army completed the set-up of at least five pumps about a mile north of the Al-Shati refugee camp. The report said each of these massive machines can move thousands of cubic meters of water per hour, flooding the tunnels within weeks.
However, such a massive project has its challenges. The newspaper says that pumping in seawater could poison already semi-salinated aquifers deep in the ground and make the surface soil unstable. It also could pollute the groundwater supply dam, age crops, and create vast puddles of salty water that would be a severe health risk for residents of the area. In addition, the chemicals and materials stored in Hamas’ tunnels could seep into the soil and contaminate Gaza’s waters.
In the past, Egypt attempted to use a similar tactic by flooding tunnels near the Gaza border crossing with saltwater to stop smugglers from entering. But local officials said this method was too destructive to the Gazan water supply and threatened to wreck farmland.
The families of the dozens of Palestinians kidnapped by Hamas in recent months have been calling on Israel to destroy all of its tunnels. They have also urged the international community to pressure Israel to stop the fighting and release their loved ones.
In a series of meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other top government officials, the kins of those held hostage have been pushing for an end to the violence and an end to the blockade of Gaza. On Monday, the kin of the latest victims met with Netanyahu. It demanded the immediate release of their family members, as well as an end to the war and a resumption of talks on a prisoner swap.