New Gaza border barrier within two years, army says

Protection system with advanced tech meant to prevent attacks above and below ground; comes day after IDF reveals terror tunnel found in Israeli territory

This February 10, 2016, file photo shows IDF soldiers keeping watch as a machine drills holes in the ground on the Israeli side of the border with the Gaza Strip as they search for tunnels used by Palestinian terrorists planning to attack Israel. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)

A new barrier between the Gaza Strip and Israeli communities will be completed within the next two years, the IDF announced on Tuesday.

The barrier, which was first proposed following 2014’s Operation Protective Edge, is designed to include both aboveground and underground protections against infiltrations from the coastal enclave.

Construction on the border protection system will take place “on a threat assessment basis,” meaning in the populated areas most vulnerable to attack, an Israel Defense Forces spokesperson said.

The army would not say which towns and IDF bases in southern Israel would first get the new system, but noted “communities closer to the border area are generally at a greater risk.”

The system is set to include both physical barriers and improved technological detection.

A tunnel reaching from Gaza into Israel, seen in a photo released by the IDF on April 18, 2016. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

This announcement came a day after security forces revealed they had discovered a Hamas attack tunnel extending dozens of meters inside Israeli territory from the Gaza Strip.

A multi-billion dollar, advanced barrier against threats from the Gaza Strip was promised to the areas surrounding the coastal enclave right after the 50-day war with Hamas in 2014.

However, the project initially progressed slowly. More than a year after the war, the project had yet to received funding, which prompted the local government’s outrage at the time.

During a Knesset meeting in November 2015, the former head of the Eshkol Regional Council, Gadi Yarkoni, slammed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ya’alon and IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot for failing to deliver the system.

“[They] personally promised us that this barrier would be built. The current fence is a joke and a scandal that does not provide security for our residents,” Yarkoni said.

The tunnel discovered last week and announced Monday was dug approximately 100 feet (30-40 meters) below ground and was reportedly found using a secretive detection system that Netanyahu touted as a “world breakthrough.”

IDF soldiers use a camera to peer into the Hamas attack tunnel discovered near the Gaza border last week, in a video released on April 18, 2016. (Screen capture: IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

However, the army downplayed the technological breakthrough and instead stressed the role of intelligence and the “boots on the ground” approach in the tunnel detection mission.

The tunnel discovered inside Israeli territory was the first since the end of the war in August 2014. During that operation, at least 34 tunnels were discovered and destroyed by Israeli forces.

Following the operation, Hamas vowed to continue using tunnels and rockets to attack the Jewish state.

Speaking at a rally in the Gaza Strip last week, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh again told residents: “Our message to the prisoners is a message inked in blood. The rifle and the tunnel are our commitment.”

Judah Ari Gross Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

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