When it comes to military firsts, Israel can probably take credit for the lion’s share. Israel was the first nation to capture an intact Soviet MiG-21, the first to capture a complete intact Soviet P-12 radar station, the first to employ militarized drones in the context of a large-scale, Wild Weasel, anti-SAM operation, and the first to destroy not one but two atom bomb facilities.
On June 2, 2018 the Israel Defense Forces executed another operational first. The Israeli Air Force bombed and destroyed a Hamas underwater terror tunnel. The tunnel, which was located approximately three kilometers from the Israeli border, was constructed for the purpose of concealing Hamas movements and allowing Hamas frogmen to enter the sea from an adjacent Hamas naval base undetected.
Hamas has been trying to improve its militarized maritime program and has invested substantial resources into improving and expanding its sea assault capabilities. On July 8, 2014 a cell of five heavily armed Hamas frogmen infiltrated Israel from the sea at Zikim Beach, which is located just north of the Gaza Strip. They were quickly detected and Israeli ground and naval units were dispatched to confront them. After a running battle, all five were liquidated. An IDF soldier was lightly wounded in the exchange.
While the attack was thwarted, it highlighted another danger and underscored the need to address the growing Hamas maritime threat. The frogmen were well trained and demonstrated considerable bravery. Though the cell was wiped out, the confrontation could have just as easily ended in disaster.
In 1978, 11 PLO terrorists (the initial force consisted of 13 members but two drowned in route) landed on the Israeli coast at a beach site just north of Tel Aviv. In the ensuing hours they killed 38 Israeli civilians and wounded 71. It was the worst terrorist attack in Israeli history, surpassing the Park Hotel suicide bombing, which killed 30.
Recognizing the threat emanating from Gaza, Israel has imposed limitations on Gaza sailing zones. Currently, Gazans are not permitted to sale passed six nautical miles from shore. To ease economic burdens, Israel permits some Gaza fishermen to travel up to 10.4 nautical miles from shore. When imposing such restrictions, Israeli authorities are required to conduct a delicate balancing act, taking into account security needs and economic burdens to the local fishing industry.
Israel has also begun constructing an under-and above-water wall to thwart sea borne infiltration. The barrier, which defense ministry officials characterized as an “impregnable breakwater,” will be constructed in the vicinity of Zikim beach, the same beach that witnessed the 2014 infiltration. The barrier, believed to be the only one of its kind in the world will consist of three levels. It will have an underground component, topped by a level of armored stone and a third level of razor wire at the upper tier. Israel’s defense ministry believes that this undertaking will further undermine Hamas attempts to exploit vulnerabilities in Israel’s well-guarded but exposed coastline.
But the IDF is not merely thinking in terms of defense. As highlighted by the June 2, strike, the IDF has demonstrated that it will act preemptively and preventatively to eliminate threats to Israel’s security. On May 29, the Israeli Air Force struck a Hamas naval base destroying a quantity of what the IDF characterized as “advanced maritime weaponry.” These were underwater sea drones created for the sole purpose of carrying out terrorist attacks. They were the brainchild of Hamas engineer, Mohammed Zawahri. Zawahri was assassinated in Tunisia by unknown assailants in December 2017. In April 2018, Fadi al-Batsh, another Hamas engineer believed to be heavily involved in Hamas’s militarized drone program was killed in Malaysia under similar circumstances. Israel reserved comment on both attacks but both are widely believed to have been executed by operatives of Israel’s vaunted intelligence service, Mossad.
Hamas has demonstrated that there is no level of depravity to which it will not sink. The Islamist group has employed mortars, rockets, terror tunnels, IEDs, drones and even kite terror. The maritime threat is just another component of Hamas’s multi-tiered strategy of aggression and terrorism.
Throughout its history, Israel has had to confront a plethora of threats faced by no other nation in the world. It faces genocidal Islamist enemies, Sunni and Shia, on all fronts. As a consequence, Israel has had to excel in technological innovation to deal with the challenges. It has also had to be at the top of its game and maintain a constant state of vigilance 24⁄7. Finally, Israel has had to adopt unique tactics to counter threats posed by malevolent adversaries. Defensive and offensive measures undertaken by Israel’s security forces – water barriers, covert operations, preemptive strikes – serve to keep the enemy off balance, thereby securing the safety of Israel’s citizens.