The Jerusalem Post reports that Israel may be underestimating the extent of tunnel penetration on its southern border.
The Post cited Steven Emerson, founder and executive director of the Washington-based Investigative Project on Terrorism, who says that US intelligence officials believe that Israel is underestimating the number of tunnels.
Emerson 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.
The actual number could be even higher because it does not include overhead satellite coverage of tunnels covered by ground structures that are several stories high and are impervious to infrared detection, Emerson said.
This information seems to contradict Israeli estimates of remaining tunnels, Emerson said. The IDF currently says that 45 tunnels have been discovered.
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. Preliminary findings show that the tunnels are 1.5 meters by 1.2 meters and at least 46 meters 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.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that the threat of the tunnels is not a new one. Regarding the Gaza ground operation necessary to find and destroy the tunnels, Netanyahu said, “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.”
Egyptian tunnels are easier to build and are dug by using traditional excavation equipment and are meant for commerce. The Gaza-Egypt tunnels are easier to see, he said, adding that the ones crossing into Israel are for military purposes and “are of a totally different magnitude.” The Gaza-Israel tunnels are quite sophisticated, with water, sewage, and lighting allowing for long stays inside.