Hugh Fitzgerald: Israel Destroys Those Hezbollah Tunnels


The Israeli military spent most of December in an unusual occupation, delving deep into the earth, locating tunnels that had been dug by Hezbollah, out of solid rock,from Lebanon into Israel, at depths that sometimes reached 300 feet underground. These tunnels represented a colossal investment of time and energy by Hezbollah. But Hassan Nasrallah and his collaborators no doubt thought even the Israelis would not be able to locate tunnels that were hundreds of feet underground. They were to be used in a future coordinated attack: Hezbollah would let loose with barrages from its store of 140,000 missiles and rockets, able to hit anywhere in Israel, and its fighters would push into Israel above ground, while at the same time Hezbollah operatives would suddenly appear in Israel from those tunnels, exploiting the element of surprise, to carry on terror operations against civilians in the Galilee. The plan was for the fighters to then escape back through the same tunnels to Lebanon. Another part of the plan was for those fighters to kidnap Israelis, preferably soldiers and children, and take them through the tunnels back to Lebanon to be held until one of those lopsided exchanges could be arranged, such as we saw in the past, most recently when 1,027 “Palestinians” were exchanged for a single Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, in 2011. Each of the six tunnels had several points of entry in Lebanon and several exits in Israel. It was an impressive effort, and hellishly difficult, one might have thought, to discover and then destroy all of these labyrinthine structures hundreds of feet underground. But the Israelis — did you doubt they would? — have proved equal to the task.

As Micah Halpern has explained here, Israel has destroyed the six tunnels using ingenious methods.

The method used to destroy the tunnel was determined by the type of tunnel. Some were destroyed by explosives. The last Hezbollah- tunnel Israel discovered was flooded with water, cement, and bentonite.

Israel’s objective in flooding the tunnel with water was clear and simple. When you imagine these tunnels, don’t think of a straight shot from point A to point B — these are complex structures. Each tunnel is a labyrinth with multiple entrances and exits, detours, and off shoots. By using tremendous force and pressure and flushing millions of gallons of salt water from the Mediterranean through the tunnel, Israel was able to then look at satellite photos and determine exactly where all the tunnel openings and exits were located.

And they discovered that some sections of the tunnel originated inside homes only two miles away from Israel. The pictures Israel made public were of a cement factory that was recently built. From the factory you can easily see the flood of water Israel had flushed through.

There was another reason Israel decided to flush the tunnel with water, cement, and bentonite.

The big worry is that after an explosion, tunnels can be cleaned out and used again. Cleaning out a destroyed tunnel is actually easier than digging new tunnels. But not if the tunnel is flooded with cement and bentonite. Cement is obvious. Bentonite requires some explanation.

Bentonite is a type of mud. It can be dried and added to various liquids. It is often used to seal wells and to repair leaks. The most interesting characteristic of this substance is that when inside a liquid, it makes the liquid very thick. When you shake the liquid it becomes less viscous and can flow. Sound familiar? Bentonite is like ketchup. The purpose of shaking a ketchup bottle before use is not to put back the yucky liquid that leeched out, the purpose is to allow you to pour your ketchup onto your fries.

Israel dumped the proper proportions of water, cement, and bentonite into the tunnel to make sure that it was sealed off and rendered unusable.

Fighting against tunnels has always been nearly impossible. It required knowing where the entrances and exits and all the twists and turns were located. Weapons used above ground were, for the most part, almost useless in tunnel warfare. But over the past year Israel has developed a top secret, near perfect technology that can detect tunnels and determine their depth and their size.

The Israelis have managed to figure out, not for the first or last time, how to deal with a novel threat. And they will be sharing their new anti-tunnel technology with their American ally. For we too have a problem with tunnels. About 200 have been discovered under the U.S.-Mexican border since 1990. The latest one to be discovered had a “rail system running its entire length. They [the Americans] also found that solar panels powered electrical, lighting and ventilation systems in the tunnel.” Once again, Israel proves its worth –see Stuxnet, see drone technology, see the Iron Dome system — as a military ally.

Like Wile E. Coyote, Hezbollah will now go back to the drawing board and try to think up something new and appropriately fiendish. And like Wile E. Coyote, I suspect Hezbollah will yet again be hoist by its very own petard, the one that is labelled Acme Missile Corporation and, as with the tunnel project, keeps blowing up in Hasan Nasrallah’s face.

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