Following reports of continued tunnel digging in the Gaza Strip after Operation Protective Edge, the US Congress has decided to initiate a joint US-Israel R&D program for the development and testing of technologies to combat the threat of the tunnels.
The joint financing project will be designed along the same lines as the joint US-Israeli project for the development of anti-missile systems. This program, considered one of the premier successes in cooperation between Israel and the US, has produced the Iron Dome, Arrow, and David's Sling (Magic Wand) systems, as well as putting hundreds of millions of dollars a year into the defense industries over the years. As in the anti-missile program, the US and Israel will each bear the same share of the tunnel project's cost.
The US House of Representatives Armed Services Committee yesterday unanimously approved an amendment to the annual defense policy bill (NDAA) laying the groundwork for the joint R&D program.. The amendment is now part of Pentagon budget bill to be sent to the House plenum for approval. There is virtually no doubt that the plenum will pass the bill, together with what is now known as the "tunnels amendment."
The language of the amendment is a combination of two previous amendments: one proposed by Congressman Douglas Lamborn (Republican) and one by Congresswoman Gwen Graham (Democrat). The background material published by the two lawmakers stated that the program was designed to protect Israel against terrorist attacks liable to come from the tunnels near the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, as happened during Operation Protective Edge. Israel exposed 32 tunnels during the operation, half of which penetrated into Israel. Gilad Shalit was kidnapped and moved into the Gaza Strip through a tunnel in 2006. According to the lawmakers, Hamas has spent almost $100 million on digging tunnels, some of which have been used, and are still being used, to smuggle arms, food, and other supplies into the Gaza Strip.
"Every day, our closest ally in the Middle East - Israel - lives under the constant threat of terrorist attacks launched from underground tunnels,” Graham said in a statement. “The US-Israel Anti-Tunnel Defense Cooperation Act will authorize an unprecedented new initiative to protect Israel from this dangerous threat… To secure peace, we must first help Israel secure their state from terrorist attacks. Iron Dome has saved countless civilian lives, and I believe an anti-tunneling defense shield will save countless more.”
Lamborn emphasized the usefulness of the program for the US, saying "Tunnels are an age-old threat that have re-emerged in a very dangerous way. We know that if Hamas has used tunnels in successful terrorist attacks, it is only a matter of time before terrorists elsewhere use tunnels as well. Tunnels are a threat to American bases and embassies around the world, and are already a serious threat on our own southern border. For all these reasons, it only makes sense to partner with Israel, like we have done on missile defense, to learn with them about how to defend against tunnels.”
The American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the pro-Israel lobby in Washington, has endorsed the bill.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on April 30, 2015
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