Amid Iran’s relentless sabre-rattling against Israel since it widened its retaliatory offensive against Hamas, the regime’s top military commander brags about tunnels underneath Gaza.
Speaking during a military event on Monday, Mohammad Bagheri, the Chief of Staff of Iran’s Armed Forces, said Hamas fighters have constructed over 400 kilometers of tunnels, describing them as one the factors that the Islamist militia has survived against Israeli fire. Meanwhile, its cities are buried under rubble as the terror group plants its infrastructure under civilian sites.
Backed by Iran’s hefty financial and logistic support, Hamas Islamist militants attacked Israel from air and ground in a surprise attack on October 7, killing more than 1,400 Israelis and taking hostage over 220 others. Israel has recently extended its retaliatory bombing of the city to ground operation. The Israeli aerial campaign, which has led to the death of thousands of Palestinians, seems inevitable as Hamas has created an underground network of tunnels to move forces, smuggle weapons, infiltrate into Israel, and perhaps keep the hostages. This extends to hiding its key infrastructure under the likes of schools and hospitals.
Boasting about the tunnels, Bagheri said motorcycles and cars can pass through the tunnels whose one end is inside the Gaza Strip and the other inside the Israeli territory. He did not talk about why Hamas, who controls the tunnels, would not let civilians use them or take shelter in them, nor did he say why the group does not use its underground network to supply the much-needed food and resources for the Gazans, who have been living under a blockade since 2007. “Hamas fighters prepare for the battle in these tunnels and manage their defensive industries,” he said.
Hamas Official Mousa Abu Marzouk said in a televised interview last week that the tunnels in Gaza were built to protect Hamas fighters from air strikes, not civilians. He added that protecting Gaza civilians is the responsibility of the United Nations and Israel. “We are fighting from inside the tunnels,” he stated.
While there are tunnels acting as shelters for the Hamas militia, there are no shelters for Gaza’s civilians under Hamas control.
The Iranian general claimed that Israel would not launch its foreshadowed big ground invasion because it knows it will end in another defeat, glorifying the deadly attack by Hamas that has ruined chances for a regional peace for an unknown future. “Palestinian fighters are ready for a ground assault by Israel, and in the past few nights, we witnessed some glimpses of this defeat. As soon as the internet reconnects in Gaza, we will see images of burning tanks and the killing and capturing of Zionist soldiers.”
Referring to the Israeli army, Bagheri said, “That mighty army and unmatched security, power, and splendor of the Zionists collapsed on October 7” in the operation al-Aqsa Flood – the codename for the war Hamas declared on Israel, “a manifestation of Hamas’ depth of intelligence and operations.”
Suggesting that the group, designated by countries including the UK and US, has enough military hardware and rockets to sustain a long war, he said, “If this bombing continues for one year, once again, the Zionists will be the losers in this field.” While Iran continues to deny having a hand in the war, while international aid groups claim there is no basic food, water and hygiene products in the territory, there is clearly no shortage of rockets.
Also on Sunday, several other Iranian military men and officials praised the tunnels as a means of “passive defense.” Iran’s Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi, himself a Revolutionary Guard commander, said the tunnel network is a significant factor in Hamas “resistance.” Iran brands its proxy militias across the region as “resistance forces” against global imperialism.
The Palestinian Islamist group has different kinds of tunnels running beneath the sandy 360 sq km coastal strip and its borders — including attack, smuggling, storage and operational burrows, Western and Middle East sources familiar with the matter said.
What lies in wait for Israeli ground troops in Gaza, security sources say, is a Hamas tunnel network hundreds of kilometers long and up to 80 meters deep, described by one freed hostage as “a spider’s web” and by one expert as the “Viet Cong times 10”.
While it and other Palestinian groups are secretive about their networks, recently released Israeli hostage, 85-year-old Yocheved Lifshitz, said, “It looked like a spider’s web, many, many tunnels,” adding: “We walked kilometers under the ground.”
The Israeli military said on Friday that Hamas is using Gaza’s main hospital, Al Shifa, as a shield for tunnels and operational centers, revealing the complex network of the center. “Hamas has turned hospitals into command-and-control centers and hideouts for Hamas terrorists and commanders,” Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, Israel’s chief military spokesman, said.
He showed photographs, diagrams and audio recordings that, he said, showed how Hamas was using hospitals to hide command posts and entry points into the tunnel network. “Hamas terrorists operate inside and under Shifa hospital and other hospitals in Gaza,” he said.
With Israel in control of Gaza’s air and sea access and 59 km of its 72 km land borders – with Egypt 13 km to the south — tunnels provide one of the few ways for Hamas to bring in weapons, equipment and people. Its capability for smuggling has earned the Hamas leaders in exile a fortune running into billions as everything that goes in and out is subject to Hamas taxation.