The challenge of eliminating holed-up Hamas militants and destroying their command-and-control centres in the serpentine labyrinths of underground tunnels involves, metaphorically speaking, smoking out of Hamas militants. Physically clearing each of them will be very expensive in terms of time, especially since the number of such tunnels is very large. Despite destroying or clearing around 30 of them by IDF’s Arabic-speaking special brigade, designated as ‘Kfir’, the task is still far from over. Further, Hamas hasn’t yet released hundreds of Israelis from their custody, who might not only be used to bargain further but also as human shields inside the tunnels.
The Kfir Brigade is trained and specially equipped to fight alone in intense anti-terror operations and operate in urban and rural areas. It can operate in all types of terrain. They can also form part of an integrated command by joining with other forces and services.
Kfir Brigade has six regular battalions, which were earlier deployed in Palestinian cities. The brigade had experience operating inside the Gaza Strip before the 2005 disengagement. Kfir Brigade is also believed to have two more special battalions: Special K-9 and Special Counter-Terrorism units.
The Units of Kfir Brigade have, in the past, been instrumental in destroying terrorist headquarters, neutralising or capturing suicide bombers and illegal weapons and explosives and earned their badges of fame in many high-profile IDF operations that include Operation Defensive Shield/ Operation Hot Winter/ Operation Cast Lead etc.
The options to evict Hamas out of the tunnels include physical assault, use of chemical gases or even tear gas shells inside or flooding of the suspected tunnels holding the militant headquarters, as was explained in my earlier article: https://bharatshakti.in/gaza-alleviating-a-humanitarian-crisis-and-smoking-militants-out-from-tunnels/.
The latest report, as published in one of the leading Indian English daily newspapers, suggests IDF contemplating the flooding of the tunnels as one of the viable options, which is quite in tune with the earlier article.
Flooding of the tunnels will involve laying pipelines from the sea pumping out of the water from the scarce aquifers, if any, or transporting to the tunnel site in tankers to prevent using the limited potable water resources for the populace. The water in the tunnel, even to a limited level, will submerge ammunition, equipment and the stored rations and affect the sustainability of the Hamas. As the water level increases in the tunnel, Hamas cadres will be forced to move up to the exits and, perhaps, allow the hostages also to do so.
Col SC Tyagi (Retd)