The IDF and the security establishment are pinning their hopes on a technology deployed along parts of the border with the Gaza Strip. While the system led to its first discovery of an attack tunnel dug by Hamas no one is rushing to celebrate a trump card over the subterranean threat which became a terrifying reality during Operation Protective Edge in 2014.
Patience is still required.
The development of the secretive system was led by security firms headed by Elbit, the Ministry of Defense Research and Development Agency, and the Geophysical Institute. It uses sensors and sensitive radar systems to provide real time alerts of subterranean spaces or construction say, underground digging beneath the surface.
The attack tunnel uncovered by the new system was being dug from the southern Strip towards Israeli territory in the general direction of Kerem Shalom crossing the border for several dozen meters. The latest discovery was dug at a greater depth close to 30 meters than the tunnels exposed by the IDF during Operation Protective Edge and before.
The tunnel was supported by concrete and included designated spaces for attack zones and splits to other underground ways. Intelligence sources believe Hamas is constantly digging towards Israel another chapter in the lifelong pursuit by the head of the group’s military wing, Mohammed Deif.
The goal is to take control of Israeli towns near Gaza and massacre and kidnap soldiers as they successfully managed in the summer of 2016 when an attack tunnel was used to kidnap Gilad Shalit.
Cutting down the Sisyphean effort
The alert provided by the new system for the tunnel in southern Gaza directed the IDF engineers: pointing them to where they needed to drill. Essentially, the data provided by the system significantly reduces the extent of the work already a dangerous Sisyphean effort which takes place in a war zone with the forces exposed to enemy action.
And yet, senior defense figures have resisted making declarations over the discovery of the significant solution to one of the horrifying security threats bubbling under the borders of Israel.
While the successful discovery using the new system marks an important step in the right direction, it is not yet time to responsibly declare that we have a subterranean Iron Dome. Considering the stakes in Gaza for digging towards Israel it is fair to assume the day the new sensors are called upon to comer into play will come soon.
The system is still being developed and improved, and it will only get better as it attains more real-world experience. Its weaknesses will be discovered and their fixes will make the system more efficient and reliable. There was a significant gap between the capabilities of the first Iron Dome battery and the current iterations of the missile defense system.
Hamas will test and challenge the abilities of the subterranean sensor system, much as it tried with the Iron Dome. Its real-world testing turned the Iron Dome into the miraculous savior from short-range rockets fired towards Israel.
The new sensor system will also be put up to the test. If it passes, its developers will rightfully be hailed across the world, Israelis will be assured the security they deserve, and Hamas will continue to look for new ways to strike at Israel’s soft underbelly.
And such a system will be in demand not only in Israel. The threat posed by tunnels whether for smuggling or warfare has been a serious thorn in the side of many world governments. South Korea has discovered numerous tunnels under the Demilitarized Zone to be used by the North Koreans in the event of war; the doomsday scenario predicted the North would send thousands of trained fighters to invade the Korean capital of Seoul.
Long before Operation Protective Edge, the security establishment received many unsolicited offers to solve the subterranean threat. Some were outright ridiculous; one senior official said he knew of an offer to “boil the ground” between Gaza and the border with Israel.
Another suggestion proposed digging a moat around the Strip that would collapse all tunnels headed towards Israel. Egypt, which is actively countering the smuggling threat from Gaza, flooded the Rafah tunnels with seawater.
The frustration among Hamas members from the high rocket interception rate of the Iron Dome missiles led to an increased use of mortar fire on Israeli towns.
Iron Dome, at least in its current configuration, cannot counter the threat of mortar fire. The flight time of a mortar round is too short; currently, the way to handle the threat amounts to a few seconds of warning sirens and a sprint to safety under reinforced concrete. Israeli companies, including Iron Dome creator Rafael, are considering future developments to intercept mortar rounds with laser beams.
But Israelis are not alone in the search for a technological solution to the threat posed by mortars. US defense giant Lockheed Martin is currently developing an intriguing solution intercepting mortar rounds by firing miniature missiles.
A week and a half ago, the company conducted a preliminary demonstration of its system, which is still in development. The trial tested the maneuverability and aerodynamics of the miniature missile which is only 61 centimeters long and weights 2.2 kilograms. The cost of each interceptor is estimated at $20,000; Lockheed has yet to test the missile against an actual target.
The Lockheed program intends to provide US forces with an efficient system that can counter a wide range of threats: from short-range mortar fire to cruise missiles, rockets, unmanned aerial vehicles, and artillery rounds.
One can assume the top brass in the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv have Lockheed Martin on speed dial.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on April 21, 2016
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