Israel says it has destroyed more than 60 miles of a vast Hamas tunnel network called the ‘Metro’

Gaza
Fire and smoke rise above buildings in Gaza City after Israeli strikes, May 18, 2021. Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto via Getty Images
  • The Israeli military says it has destroyed over 97km of Hamas tunnels in Gaza.
  • These tunnels have been used to move troops, weapons, and other supplies as the militants fight.
  • Israel has launched a number of tunnel-clearing operations over the years, some using ground troops.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The Israeli military says that in recent days it has destroyed over 97km of a vast tunnel network that is nicknamed the “Metro” and used by Palestinian militants.

Hamas has “spent millions of dollars on digging an underground tunnel network underneath civilian homes in Gaza,” the Israel Defense Forces said in a video put out on Wednesday, noting that the network has been about a decade in the making.

Hamas Gaza tunnel
Members of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, deploy at a tunnel in the Shujaya neighborhood of Gaza City, August 17, 2014. Mustafa Hassona/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

“The tunnels were originally used by Hamas operatives to hide after firing rockets at Israel,” the IDF continued, explaining that “Hamas connected its smaller tunnels until they became a complex underground system allowing terrorists to hide, train, and transport weapons.”

As part of Operation Guardian of the Walls, which started after Hamas and other Palestinian militants began firing rockets at Israel earlier this month, Israeli fighter jets supported by ground forces, like tanks and artillery, have destroyed miles and miles of the “terror tunnels,” as the IDF calls them.

IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus told The Washington Post on Tuesday that the tunnels are the “backbone” of Hamas operations.

Within the subterranean system, commanders can move troops and weapons and direct attacks against Israel.

An armed Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigade, military wing of Hamas, deploys at a tunnel in Shujaya neighborhood of Gaza City, Gaza on August 17, 2014
An Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigade member in a tunnel in the Shujaya neighborhood of Gaza City, August 17, 2014. Photo by Mustafa Hassona/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Some of the tunnels are quite shallow, at no more than 4.57m deep, while others are as deep as 27.43m, making them much harder to destroy, according to The Times of London, citing Israeli military personnel.

Israeli operations to destroy the tunnels began on Friday, May 14, as the world and Hamas braced for an anticipated Israeli ground offensive that never came, despite reports to the contrary.

The Israeli military is suspected of intentionally putting out misleading information signaling the start of a ground campaign in an effort to draw Hamas into the tunnels, which were hammered that day by 160 aircraft and various ground forces positioned on the border.

-Israel Defense Forces (@IDF) May 14, 2021

Strikes against these tunnels have continued since that first day and have killed dozens of Hamas combatants, including commanders, according to the Israeli military.

The IDF has released a video featuring animated maps and live video of its strike operations.

-צבא ההגנה לישראל (@idfonline) May 19, 2021

Although the operations have apparently achieved their objectives, they have also taken a toll on Palestinian civilians living in Gaza. Strikes on tunnels on Sunday caused a number of civilian homes to collapse, killing 42 civilians. The Israeli armed forces said the casualties were “unintended.”

The current conflict is not the first time Israel has launched tunnel-clearing operations in Gaza. During the 2014 Gaza War, Israeli armor, artillery, and infantry units, supported by air and sea assets, actually invaded the strip to clear and destroy the tunnels.

That war saw 2,251 Palestinians, more than half of whom were civilians, die along with more than 70 Israelis, according to a UN report. Another 11,231 Palestinians and about 1,600 Israelis suffered injures as a “tragic result of the hostilities.”

An armed Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigade, military wing of Hamas, deploys at a tunnel in Shujaya neighborhood of Gaza City, Gaza on August 17, 2014.
An Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigade member in a tunnel in the Shujaya neighborhood of Gaza City, August 17, 2014. Photo by Mustafa Hassona/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

In the latest fight, international pressure has been mounting on both sides to move toward a ceasefire as the death toll, which is already in the hundreds, rises.

In a call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, President Joe Biden said that he “expected a significant de-escalation” and a move forward “on the path to a ceasefire,” according to a White House readout of the call.

In a later statement, Netanyahu said that while he appreciates “the support of the American president,” but he is “determined to continue this operation until its aim is met,” with the aim being the return of “calm and security” to Israel.

The Associated Press reported Thursday afternoon, citing unspecified Israeli media, that the Israeli prime minister’s security cabinet has approved a unilateral ceasefire. And Reuters, citing a Hamas official, reported that a ceasefire is expected Friday afternoon.