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Israel tests terror tunnel detection systems

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An Israeli army officer gives explanations to journalists during an army organised tour in a tunnel said to be used by Palestinian militants for cross-border attacks. (REUTERS/Jack Guez/Pool)

Israel is testing two detection systems in an attempt to prevent future tunnel attacks by Hamas fighters along its border with Gaza.

Israel Defense Forces successfully destroyed 32 tunnels during Operation Protective Edge, which began on July 8 in response to an escalation in rocket attacks by Hamas. Concerns about ongoing cross-border tunnel raids, however, have thrust detection technologies into the spotlight. Critics have argued that the Hamas tunnel threat was underestimated, and have questioned why sophisticated technology was not employed earlier to tackle the labyrinthine network.

Likened to a subway system, much of the tunnel network was built with concrete blocks, and was used to transport Hamas fighters, for smuggling and for storing weapons.

The Israeli military told FoxNews.com that it has been working to tackle the tunnel threat for over a decade. “In the early 2000s, the IDF began looking at ways to counter the threat from terror tunnels,” it explained, in an emailed statement, adding that by 2002 over 700 projects from Israel and overseas companies were being considered.

With building and maintaining a physical barrier along Israel’s entire 32-mile border with Gaza deemed too expensive, IDF focused its attention on two technology systems in 2005 and 2006. Although not initially effective, the systems are now undergoing “changes and updates,” according to the Israeli military.

“An integration of these two systems recently successfully passed laboratory tests and the IDF will shortly undergo field testing,” it said. “If and when these tests are successful, the IDF will recommend a combination of these systems, plus physical obstacles between the gaps.”

“The complex system has multiple layers connected to sensors,” added IDF, but did not reveal any other details or name the companies involved.

IDF said that, once a final decision is made on the technologies, deployment will last about a year, costing between 1.5 billion and 2 billion shekels ($430 million to $574 million). The cost of building a physical barrier along the entire Gaza border would cost billions of shekels, it noted.

On Monday an unnamed senior officer in the Israeli army told The Times of Israel that physical barriers such as moats or walls would be used to protect sensitive locations along the border and in areas where it suits the local geology. Different technology methods to detect tunneling or movement in a tunnel would also be employed.

Israeli science and technology experts have touted a number of techniques for locating the tunnels such as fiber optics to sense displacements of soil and underground radar.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers