Karni Tunnel as Hamas Hidden Arm into Israel’s Western Negev

Round about 400 arms smuggling tunnels linking Egyptian Sinai to Palestinian Gaza under the Philadelphi border route have been unearthed and destroyed in the last couple of years by Israeli forces. As fast as they are discovered, new ones are built. But last Monday, December 6, an Israeli Golani unit, acting on an intelligence pointer, struck an entirely new Palestinian project dug further north and designed for a different function.
This shaft was situated under a chicken coop near the Karni goods crossing into Israel. It snaked in a west-east direction, pointing towards Israel.
The discovery cost the life of a 20-year old soldier from the IDF canine unit, Master Sgt. Nadav Kudinsky, and that of his sniffer dog who led the force to its target.
Unlike the rough and ready burrows that “import” most Palestinian terrorist manpower, weapons and explosives supplies from Sinai – or the hidden buried bomb craters sunk under Israeli positions – the still unfinished Karni Tunnel was built to last. Clearly designed by competent engineers, plastered reinforced concrete walls run its 300-meter length.
Israeli intelligence has known about its existence for six months, but never found its location till this week. Israeli commanders and military planners ordered the hunt because of the acute danger the tunnel represents to all their counter-terror efforts in southwest Israel. Finished, the project would have run 500-600 meters, making it the longest Palestinian tunnel discovered yet. It was to have headed under the electronic security fence marking the Gaza border and come out deep inside Israeli territory. Five meters high, it was planned to carry complete units of terrorists undetected from the Gaza Strip under IDF border posts and watchtowers back and forth for repeated attacks against the surrounding Israeli towns of Sderot, Ofakim, Netivot and Ashkelon – site of the national electricity center and Israel’s only Mediterranean oil port – as well as kibbutzim and farms. Security hatches were placed at intervals to permit assault units to lurk in hiding for prolonged periods until it was safe to emerge. The outlet was to be located in the desert away from watchful Israeli eyes. The gangs of terrorists would have leapt out of the ground from a direction opposite to the Gaza Strip and caught their targets unawares.
This device was the centerpiece of Hamas’ long-term planning for maintaining its terrorist campaign alive from the Gaza Strip against Israel after the territory was turned over to Palestinian control.
When the Israeli force was seen to be closing in on the tunnel opening, the Hamas let loose with a furious outburst of fire and explosive devices to prevent its discovery, killing the Israeli sergeant and injuring four soldiers. Israeli helicopters were summoned to stem the stream of reinforcements rushing to the scene. Then came a retaliatory hail of Qassam missile and anti-tank fire against Israeli positions and locations across the border.
This upsurge of violence erupted at the same time as Mahmoud Abbas, Fatah candidate for Palestinian Authority chairman, and prime minister Ahmed Qureia were sitting in a Damascus hotel trying to persuade Hamas leaders Khaled Mashel and Abu Marzuk to accept a limited ceasefire only for the January 9 Palestinian election. They were firmly rebuffed.
Three days later, Thursday, December 9, the Palestinian tunnels’ godfather, Jemal Abu Semadana, who is head of the terrorist umbrella Popular Resistance Committees of the southern Gaza Strip, escaped with injuries from an Israeli air strike against his Subaru between Khan Younes and Rafah. His two bodyguards were hurt too. As a close associate of the late Yasser Arafat, Abu Semadana escaped prosecution for orchestrating the October 2003 bomb attack in which three American security agents from the US embassy in Tel Aviv were murdered. He is also close to Mussa Arafat, chief of Palestinian armed forces in the Gaza Strip and head of Palestinian military intelligence.
The discovery of the Karni Tunnel thwarted the latest Palestinian stratagem for reaching into Israel for an open-ended terrorist offensive. It also pre-empted the launch of a second Palestinian tunnel front. However, Israel failed to terminate the activities of the boss and architect of the Palestinians’ subterranean system for circumventing Israel’s counter-terror defenses. The Karni Tunnel is unlikely to be his last project.

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