As Israeli security forces thwarted the latest attempt by terrorists to infiltrate Israel via tunnels from Gaza on Monday, The Jerusalem Post has learned that Israel may be underestimating the extent of tunnel penetration on its southern border.
Steven Emerson, founder and executive director of the Washington-based Investigative Project on Terrorism, told the Post in an exclusive interview on Sunday that US intelligence officials believe that Israel is underestimating the number of tunnels.
He said that according to a senior National Security Council official dealing with the Middle East, American satellites — equipped with special high resolution infrared detection technology — have preliminary findings of around 60 tunnels on the Israel-Gaza border.
This number could actually be higher though because it does not include overhead satellite coverage of ground structures that are several stories in height and are impervious to infrared detection, Emerson said.
This information seems to contradict Israeli estimates of remaining tunnels, Emerson said.
The IDF told the Post on Monday that up until now 45 tunnels have been discovered, but when asked how many it estimated remain, it said that no information was available.
Emerson said that the advanced American satellite, which was originally developed to deal with the Iranian theater, had been directed to orbit over Israel and send the data to specialized reconnaissance agencies operating under the aegis of the National Security Agency (NSA) for analysis.
The infrared heat-seeking technology works by detecting changes in terrain density and the preliminary findings show that the tunnels are 1.5 m. by 1.2 m. and at least 46 m. in length.
Emerson said that he is unaware if Israel requested such intelligence from the Americans or if it has yet been shared between the two nations — though he presumes that if it hadn’t it will be.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that the threat of the tunnels is not a new one and Israel is aware of them. “It is an operation with more risk, but it is vital. If these tunnels were not found, then the results would have been a lot worse,” Netanyahu said of the ground operations in Gaza.
Emerson said that “according to American experts, there are only a couple of very specialized international corporations that manufacture tunnel-based equipment that detect unusual gaps in the density of hard rock being measured.”
The technology also has commercial uses and assists in determining areas suitable for tunnels and mines.
Emerson speculated that Israel did not purchase this equipment because of its high cost — and due to its belief that Israel can find and deal with the tunnels without it. He said that an ex-Israeli intelligence official who he spoke to came across as arrogant when speaking of the tunnel threat, and had a “we can deal with it,” attitude.
“It is believed that the construction of the more advanced Palestinian tunnels began right after the 2012 cease-fire agreement, when Israel agreed to lift restrictions for humanitarian aid, including large quantities of steel and concrete,” he said, adding that the …read more