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

Palestinians walk through damaged buildings in Gaza City....

Associated Press

Israeli military confirms release of 8 more Israeli hostages from captivity in Gaza Strip

At least 10 Israelis a day have been released during the truce, in return for Israel’s release of at least 30 Palestinian prisoners.

6 hours ago

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaks during a news conference following a closed-door...

STEPHEN GROVES Associated Press

Senate Majority Leader Schumer warns antisemitism is on the rise

His remarks during a nearly-45 minute speech on the Senate floor Wednesday come at a sensitive time in the Israel-Hamas war.

1 day ago

This photo released by Schneider Children's Medical Center on Monday, Nov. 27, 2023 shows Abigail E...


Israel confirms 11 hostages released from Hamas captivity have returned to Israeli territory

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — The Israeli military says 11 hostages have been released from Hamas captivity in the Gaza Strip and returned to Israeli territory. Military officials said late Monday that the hostages were on Israeli soil and undergoing initial medical checks before being reunited with their families. It is the fourth such release […]

3 days ago

Palestinians walk through damaged buildings in Gaza City....

Mostafa Salem, CNN

Deal reached to extend Israel-Hamas truce by two days, Qatar says

Qatar says, deal reached to extend Israel-Hamas truce by two days.

4 days ago

Image of Abigail Edan, now in the hands of Red Cross officials, a senior US official told CNN. (Hos...

Arlette Saenz, Betsy Klein and MJ Lee, CNN

4-year-old Israeli American hostage is released

Two American women who are unaccounted for are also expected to be part of the group of 50 women and children hostages expected to be released.

5 days ago

Hostages Released by Hamas on Friday November 24th...

Tara John, Lauren Izso, Tamar Michaelis and Sophie Tanno, CNN

Who are the hostages released on Friday?

CNN — A group of hostages is recovering after being freed by Hamas as a temporary truce took effect, bringing a halt to fighting after weeks of conflict. Thirteen Israeli civilians were freed along with 11 foreign nationals in the initial exchange. They are all said to be well, bringing to an end the first […]

5 days ago

Sponsored Articles

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.

Clouds over a red rock vista in Hurricane, Utah...

Wasatch Property Management

Why Southern Utah is a Retirement Paradise

Retirement in southern Utah offers plenty of cultural and recreational opportunities. Find out all that this region has to offer.

Human hand holding a protest banner stop vaping message over a crowded street background....

Prosperous Utah Communities

Utah’s Battle to Protect Youth from Vaping Epidemic Faces New Threat as Proposed Rule Threatens Progress

Utah's strict standards of nicotine levels in vaping products are at risk, increasing health hazards associated with use. Read more about how you can advocate for a better future for Utah's youth.

Aerial photo of Bear Lake shoreline with canopies and people camped out on the beach...

Visit Bear Lake

Last-Minute Summer Vacation Planning? Check Out Bear Lake!

Bear Lake is the perfect getaway if you are last-minute summer vacation planning. Enjoy activities with your whole family at this iconic lake.

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