TEL AVIV – The Israel Defense Forces has no intention of escalating the situation along the Israel-Gaza border, but it will continue operations to detect and destroy Hamas terror tunnels, IDF Spokesperson Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said on Sunday.
Lerner was speaking in an interview to air Sunday night on this reporter’s weekend national talk radio show, “Aaron Klein Investigative Radio.”
The IDF and Israel have no intention of escalation, but we also have no intention of accepting the reality of these infiltration tunnels. Tunnels that only have one purpose – terror, death, and destruction. And that’s why they need be stopped and we will continue to operate to do so. That is our obligation. It’s what we need to do and we have to do it even under the potential that it could lead to more fire against our forces. Our job is to defend the civilians of the State of Israel and that’s what we intend to do.
Lerner explained that the IDF has been using a combination of technology, intelligence, and ground force engineering operations to detect the terror tunnels.
“In the last three weeks, we found two tunnels which have been cross-border tunnels in the southern Gaza Strip,” he stated. “What we have been doing is decommissioning them, putting them out of order.
And we have seen Hamas in the last weeks turn around basically and put a strategic change in their efforts and carry out attacks against our forces that have been carrying out these (anti-tunnel) activities.”
Lerner warned that Hamas “has a strategic plan to build tunnels that come into Israeli territory and are intended to undermine all of the advantages we have had – ground forces, air forces, things that can be seen from above.”
He continued: “And that’s why they have invested so much money and efforts in their tunnels. Over 1,000 people working in building these tunnels. Our estimate is that each tunnel costs about $3 million.”
Lerner spoke following a report on Israel’s Ynet website that Hamas had committed itself to de-escalating border tensions following mediation efforts by international parties.
A general agreement has been reached between the warring sides after tremendous mediation effort by international parties in recent days and a great number of messages exchanged via intermediaries.
On Saturday, Israeli jets struck Hamas targets after rockets were fired over the last two days from the Gaza Strip at the Israeli civilian population.
The rockets followed a series of Hamas attacks in recent days. On Tuesday and Wednesday, Hamas militants fired at least six times at IDF forces searching for terror tunnels along the Israel-Gaza border. The Israel Air Force retaliated by firing at Hamas targets in Gaza.
The clashes come about two weeks after the IDF announced the discovery of a Hamas terror tunnel that crossed into Israeli territory.
This reporter analysed this situation on Wednesday:
Hamas seems to be testing Israel’s military and political response to the possibility of another major outbreak of war in the south.
Gaza’s Islamist rulers are also clearly sending a message to Egypt and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that Hamas must be part of any future accommodation regarding border security along the coastal enclave. The Egyptians have been mediating reconciliation talks between Fatah and Hamas with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah Party eyeing a security presence along the Gaza-Egypt border. Abbas is due in Egypt next week for consultations.
Over the last 24 hours, Hamas militants fired at least six times at IDF forces searching for terror tunnels along the Israel-Gaza border. The Israel Air Force retaliated by firing at Hamas targets in Gaza on Wednesday.
Hamas’s escalation seems to be further aimed at signalling that it is willing to take risks to prevent the IDF from destroying the terror tunnels, which are critical to Hamas’s battle-plans and regional power.
Hamas is also increasingly desperate as its economy is on the brink of collapse, and it may be using the violence to send a message to Israel and the international community that the Islamist group is willing to draw Israel into conflict if Hamas’s financial needs are not met. Renewed hostilities would also help to redirect Palestinian anger away from Hamas’s own failing government and toward the Jewish state.
Aaron Klein is Breitbart’s Jerusalem bureau chief and senior investigative reporter. He is a New York Times bestselling author and hosts the popular weekend talk radio program, “Aaron Klein Investigative Radio.” Follow him on Twitter @AaronKleinShow. Follow him on Facebook.