In the interview, he recalled the last days of the battle for the Iraqi city of Mosul, where the fighters of the Islamic State are hidden in a series of tunnels In 2017, “Our Iraqi soldiers were clearing, using bulldozers, ISIS fighters who were literally buried in the rubble,” he said. “It was very, very brutal.”
Tunnels have been a part of life in Gaza for years, but they multiplied rapidly after 2007, when Hamas took control of the enclave and Israel tightened the blockade. The Palestinians responded by building hundreds of tunnels to smuggle food, goods, people and weapons.
The tunnels cost Hamas about $3 million each, according to the Israeli military. Some are made of precast concrete and steel, and have medical rooms to treat wounded warriors. Others have spaces 130 feet underground where people can hide for months at a time.
In Israel, people often refer to the tunnel system as “lower Gaza” or “the metro”.
Yocheved Lifshitz, an 85-year-old woman held hostage by Hamas for 17 days this month, described marching for miles through a “spider web” of tunnels. She told reporters on Tuesday that Hamas militants led her through wet and humid underground corridors to “a large hall where about 25 kidnapped people were concentrated”.
After two or three hours, five people from her kibbutz were placed in a special room, she said.
At the press conference on Friday, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, a spokesman for the Israeli military, accused Hamas of building tunnels and other facilities under Gaza’s Al Shifa Hospital, the territory’s largest medical center. He played the intercepted audio recording and illustration shown underground complex.
General Votel, who visited a tunnel controlled by the Lebanese militia Hezbollah near the Israeli border, said he was “taken aback by the level of effort involved in creating these things”.
“These weren’t just holes in the ground, they were architecture,” he said. “They were connected to the rooms and built in a way to withstand impacts to the surface.”
As Hamas expanded the underground system, it hid tunnel entrances in houses and other small structures on the Egyptian side of the border, said Joel Roskin, a geology professor at Bar-Ilan University in Israel who studied the tunnels during his time in Israel. military. Those tunnels allowed the smuggling of goods from Egypt.
The tunnel system stretches all the way to the Israeli border in the north.
A decade ago, Egypt undertook efforts to destroy tunnels along its border, dumping sewage into some and leveling houses that hid the entrances, Mr. Roskin said.
Israel has limited visibility of tunnel activity on the Egyptian side of the border, he added. Many of the networks end in northern Sinai, but the Egyptian government has rarely allowed Israeli researchers or government officials to visit the area, so it is unclear how many cross-border tunnels remain.