Published in Foreign Policy
Breaking news about Cuba and North Korea has obscured equally important news about Iran. It is accelerating support for terror tunnels in Gaza aimed under Israel; rockets and missiles pointed toward Israel; as well as tunnels in Iran designed to hide cheating on nuclear obligations that could scuttle negotiations in Vienna.
Just as Israeli intelligence is unable to determine existence of terror tunnels without adequate human intelligence in Gaza, both Jerusalem and Washington have a hard time assessing nuclear tunnels in Iran. They lack appropriate human intelligence to reinforce signals and satellite intelligence. It is easier to track rockets and missiles from Iran into Gaza (and to Hezbollah in Lebanon). The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), based in Paris with an extensive network on the ground in Iran, has validated human intelligence capability. (Although controversy surrounds the NCRI about alleged payments to buy support, such claims are irrelevant to the merits of issues discussed here.)
With Iranian assistance and funding, tunnels in Gaza display Tehran’s efforts to threaten Israel. By secretly helping its ally Hamas to build tunnels, Iran laid the predicate for the 2014 Gaza War. On Dec. 19, the Jerusalem Post reported that Hamas accelerated tunnel repair. Hamas admitted earlier this fall that tunnel construction had resumed. The Israeli military has estimated that it cost Hamas $90 million to build the 32 tunnels that were uncovered. The tunnels required, on average, 350 truckloads of construction supplies each; contrary to using them for schools, hospitals, and housing, Hamas used supplies to rebuild terror tunnels.
After the 2008 Gaza War, Iran aided rehabilitation of tunnels destroyed or damaged in the fighting. During the Muslim Brotherhood one-year rule in Egypt (2012 to 2013), Iran accelerated transfer of rockets to Gaza by sea and land (Sudan and Sinai).
In his new book Terror Tunnels, Alan Dershowitz states that the 2014 War in Gaza required Israeli ground forces to gain access to the tunnels and shut them down. Israel was unable to determine their routes and exit ramps because they were too deep underground and not detectable from the air.
Israeli intelligence was largely unaware that Hamas had kept critical details about the tunnel network secret; Israel relies on technologies capable of eavesdropping on telecommunications in Palestinian territories. Hamas countered by wiring its longer tunnels with cables unconnected with the local telephone grid. Such is the importance of the tunnels that Israel’s Gaza War aim changed from mainly stopping rocket attacks to principally destroying the tunnels.
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