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Israeli official bets advances in anti-tunnel technology will secure Gaza border

Advances in anti-tunnel technology have provided the Israeli military with new means of heading off attacks from Palestinian militants based in the Gaza Strip, an Israeli military official said Tuesday.

The official, who heads the underground-warfare section of the Israeli military’s technological unit, said the new methods for detecting and destroying extensive, often sophisticated, underground spaces had resulted in the elimination of at least three tunnels since October.

Israeli leaders have hailed the use of new technology for countering border vulnerabilities, saying it will help keep Israelis who live near the Palestinian enclave safe.

The official, who spoke on the sidelines of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference in Washington, said the new methods are the culmination of three to four years of investment, including funding from the U.S. government and work by Israeli military and defense firms including Elbit Systems and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems.

Militants’ ability to use underground tunnels to launch attacks was a major feature of the Israeli military’s 2014 war with the Palestinian group Hamas in Gaza. About 30 tunnels were destroyed during that conflict.

“We realize that we know what we’re doing now. We know how to conduct these operations, and we know how to apply these technologies,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for security reasons. “It’s not that we stopped [the problem] and everything’s fine. But we have a good plan.”

According to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), militants have used tunnels to attack Israel since the early 2000s, but their use has accelerated since then. In 2006, an Israeli soldier was abducted by Hamas militants who crossed into Israel through a tunnel. (He was released in 2011.)

While the official declined to provide details about the technology, he suggested that it was based on techniques used by extractive industries, which sometimes employ seismic or sound waves to prospect for minerals or fossil fuels.

Seven Palestinian militants killed as Israel blows up tunnel from Gaza

“When we started working on this we wanted to see what was being done in the world,” he said. “Oil and gas use a lot of seismic technologies, and we definitely wanted to learn from them.”

The official said the soil around Gaza is extremely varied, making it more difficult for detection technology to distinguish between concrete or open space associated with tunnels, and naturally occurring clay or sand.

Looking for tunnels is basically a task of finding “the right anomaly,” he said.

According to Israeli media reports, the technology includes seismic sensors that seek to detect underground vibrations and could identify the location and dimensions of a tunnel.

The official likewise declined to give details of what he described as advances in technologies used to destroy tunnels once they have been detected. He said the Israeli military is now able to detonate tunnels in certain instances with minimal damage to surface structures or activities. He denied reports in Arab media that accused Israel of using gas against people inside Gaza tunnels.

“What we’re doing is building an arsenal of tools that is varied to be able to fight off our enemy in any way they choose,” he said.

The Israeli government is also constructing a massive underground barrier to block tunnels.