The ‘Gaza metro’: The mysterious subterranean tunnel network used by Hamas

Oct 16, 2023, 6:30 AM | Updated: Nov 30, 2023, 5:41 pm

A Palestinian fighter from the Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of the Hamas movement...

A Palestinian fighter from the Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of the Hamas movement, gestures inside an underground tunnel in Gaza in August 2014. Mohammed Salem/Reuters/File)

Originally Published: 15 OCT 23 15:44 ET
Updated: 15 OCT 23 19:22 ET

(CNN) — The myriad tunnels under Gaza are best known as passageways used to smuggle goods from Egypt and launch attacks into Israel.

But there exists a second underground network that the Israel Defense Forces colloquially refer to as the “Gaza metro.” It’s a vast labyrinth of tunnels, by some accounts several kilometers underground, used to transport people and goods; to store rockets and ammunition caches; and house Hamas command and control centers, all away from the prying eyes of the IDF’s aircraft and surveillance drones.

Hamas in 2021 claimed to have built 500 kilometers (311 miles) worth of tunnels under Gaza, though it is unclear if that figure was accurate or posturing. If true, Hamas’ underground tunnels would be a little less than half the length of the New York City subway system.

“It’s a very intricate, very large – huge – network of tunnels on a rather small piece of territory,” said Daphne Richemond-Barak, a professor at Israel’s Reichman University and expert on underground warfare.

It’s unclear how much the tunnel network would have cost Hamas, which governs the impoverished coastal strip. The figure is likely significant, both in terms of manpower and capital.

Gaza has been under a land, sea and air blockade by Israel, as well as a land blockade by Egypt, since 2007 and is not believed to possess the type of massive machinery typically used to build tunnels deep underground. Experts say that diggers using basic tools likely burrowed deep underground to dig the network, which is wired with electricity and reinforced by concrete. Israel has long accused Hamas of diverting concrete meant for civilian and humanitarian purposes toward the construction of tunnels.

Hamas’ critics also say that the group’s massive expenditures on tunnels could have instead paid for civilian bomb shelters or early warning networks like those across the border in Israel.

The asymmetric advantage

Tunnels have been an attractive tool of warfare since medieval times. Today they offer militant groups like Hamas an edge in asymmetric warfare, negating some of the technological advantages of a more advanced military like the IDF.

What makes Hamas tunnels different from those of al Qaeda in the mountains of Afghanistan or the Viet Cong in the jungles of Southeast Asia is that it has constructed a subterranean network below one of the most densely populated areas on the planet. Nearly 2 million people live in the 88 square miles that make up Gaza City.

“It’s always difficult to deal with tunnels, don’t get me wrong, in any context, even when they are in a mountainous area, but when they are urban area, then everything is more complicated – the tactical aspects, strategic aspects, the operational aspects, and of course, the protection that you want to ensure for the civilian population,” said Richemond-Barak, who is also a senior fellow at the Lieber Institute for Law and Land Warfare and the Modern War Institute at West Point.

Since the October 7 terror attack in Israel in which at least 1,400 people, mostly civilians, were killed, the IDF has repeatedly alleged that Hamas is hiding inside these passages “underneath houses and inside buildings populated with innocent Gazan civilians,” effectively turning them into human shields. Israeli military airstrikes have since killed at least 2,670 Palestinians, the Ministry of Health in Gaza said in a statement on Sunday.

The IDF is expected to go after the network in its forthcoming ground incursion into Gaza, as it has in recent years gone to extreme lengths to eliminate Hamas’ tunnels. Israel launched a ground assault on Gaza in 2014 to try and eliminate the underground passages.

On Friday, Israel warned about 1.1 million living in Gaza to move south ahead of its likely operation, according to the United Nations. Critics said such an order was impossible to carry out on short notice in the middle of a war zone. The top UN human rights official said the evacuation call “defies the rules of war and basic humanity.”

Moving civilians out of Gaza City would help make it safer to eliminate tunnels, but such operations will be dangerous, Richemond-Barak said.

The IDF can either render the tunnels temporarily unusable or destroy them. According to Richemond-Barak, bombing the underground passages is typically the most efficient way to eliminate them, but such strikes can impact civilians.

What is clear is that technology alone won’t be enough to stop the subterranean threat.

Israel spent billions of dollars attempting to secure the border with a smart system that boasts advanced sensors and subterranean walls, yet Hamas was still able to launch its October 7 assault by land, air and sea.

Richemond-Barak said a holistic approach is required, one that employs visual intelligence, border monitoring and even asking civilians to keep an eye out for anything suspect.

“There is no foolproof solution to deal with a tunnel threat,” Richemond-Barak said. “There’s no Iron Dome for tunnels.”

™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

Israel + Hamas

Emergency services work at a destroyed building hit by an air strike in Damascus, Syria on April 1....

MJ Lee and Jennifer Hansler, CNN

US preparing for significant Iran attack on US or Israeli assets in the region as soon as next week

The US is on high alert and actively preparing for a “significant” attack that could come as soon as within the next week.

7 days ago

bodies are removed after the World Central Kitchen was hit by an israeli air strike...


Biden tells Israel’s Netanyahu future US support for war depends on new steps to protect civilians

Biden also told Netanyahu that an “immediate ceasefire is essential” and urged Israel to reach deal "without delay," according to the White House.

8 days ago

bodies are removed after the World Central Kitchen was hit by an israeli air strike...

TIA GOLDENBERG Associated Press

What is World Central Kitchen and how has it helped people in Gaza?

The group has been providing food to Palestinians in Gaza facing widespread hunger since war began.

10 days ago

Demonstrators call for the release of Israeli hostages being held by Hamas during a protest in Tel ...

Abel Alvarado, Ami Kaufman, Mostafa Salem and Becky Anderson, CNN

Israel agrees to US proposal on prisoner-hostage exchange and is awaiting Hamas’ response, CNN analyst says

Israel has agreed to a US proposal on a prisoner-hostage exchange that would release around 700 Palestinian prisoners.

19 days ago

United Airlines aircrafts are parked at Newark Liberty International Airport in Newark, New Jersey,...

Ross Levitt, Pete Muntean and Samantha Delouya, CNN

United to resume non-stop service from US to Israel

United Airlines said it will resume flights from the United States to Israel beginning in March.

2 months ago

Nasser hospital in the city of Khan Younis, Gaza, on December 22, 2020....

Kareem Khadder and Zeena Saifi, CNN

‘We are completely besieged’: One of last doctors left in Gaza’s Nasser hospital says patients’ fate no longer in his control

One of the doctors remaining in Gaza's Nasser hospital has described a “catastrophic” situation a week into the Israeli forces’ siege.

2 months ago

Sponsored Articles


Live Nation Concerts

Artists coming to Utah First Credit Union Amphitheatre (formerly USANA Amp) this summer

Summer concerts are more than just entertainment; they’re a celebration of life, love, and connection.

Mother and cute toddler child in a little fancy wooden cottage, reading a book, drinking tea and en...

Visit Bear Lake

How to find the best winter lodging in Bear Lake, Utah

Winter lodging in Bear Lake can be more limited than in the summer, but with some careful planning you can easily book your next winter trip.

Happy family in winter clothing at the ski resort, winter time, watching at mountains in front of t...

Visit Bear Lake

Ski more for less: Affordable ski resorts near Bear Lake, Utah

Plan your perfect ski getaway in Bear Lake this winter, with pristine slopes, affordable tickets, and breathtaking scenery.

front of the Butch Cassidy museum with a man in a cowboy hat standing in the doorway...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Looking Back: The History of Bear Lake

The history of Bear Lake is full of fascinating stories. At over 250,000 years old, the lake has seen generations of people visit its shores.

silhouette of a family looking over a lake with a bird in the top corner flying...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

8 Fun Activities To Do in Bear Lake Without Getting in the Water

Bear Lake offers plenty of activities for the whole family to enjoy without having to get in the water. Catch 8 of our favorite activities.

Wellsville Mountains in the spring with a pond in the foreground...

Wasatch Property Management

Advantages of Renting Over Owning a Home

Renting allows you to enjoy luxury amenities and low maintenance without the long-term commitment and responsibilities of owning a home.

The ‘Gaza metro’: The mysterious subterranean tunnel network used by Hamas