Let's begin with the bottom line, as it is seen in Israel and Gaza Strip: Hamas has already declared that it will continue to dig terror tunnels -- or, as its leaders have put it, "If there is no peace and quiet in Gaza, there will be no peace and quiet in Tel Aviv" -- and the defense establishment understands that the only way to thwart this threat is by getting accurate intelligence.
Intelligence was critical during the discovery stage of the tunnel that was exposed on Sunday near Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha, near the Gaza-Israel border, and it will be pivotal when -- and if -- an investigation will attempt to backtrack the incident.
The IDF said Sunday that over 500 tons of concrete were used to line the tunnel's walls, and that it took over 100 people, including professional excavators, iron smiths, electricians and various technicians, over a year to dig it. So many people, so much time -- and no one in Israel knew anything? Terror attacks that emanate from Gaza Strip are one of the basic premises under which the Shin Bet and Military Intelligence operate, and this involved preparations for a potentially very lethal terror attack. This was not a local, independent project -- this project was obviously directed, funded and supervised by someone higher-up. So where was the intelligence?
Fortunately, the tunnel was detected on time, before it could be used to execute an immediate terror attack or, in the more likely scenario, used as a "rainy day" terror option, when it could have been used to smuggle terror cells into Israel in retaliation for a wide-scale Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip, for example.
The schematics speak for themselves: this is a wide tunnel, a little over 180 centimeters (6 feet) in height, meaning that the average man can move around in it comfortably; it is well lit, with multiple exits and tracks running through it to help mobilize weapons. It runs from deep within Palestinian territory and about 400 meters (a quarter mile) into Israel -- behind the Israeli security forces patrolling the border. This kind of tunnel can accommodate dozens of people in a short period of time, allowing them to cross into Israel and execute terror attacks either near the border or in the heart of the country.
This scenario, which was nipped in the bud, has been bothering the defense establishment since Gilad Schalit was abducted in June 2006. Such an incident can turn from a tactical event into a national strategic problem within seconds, and it can force the IDF into an unplanned, wide-scale military campaign in Gaza that will divert international attention from the situations in Cairo and Damascus and make it focus on Israel.
This is also why Sunday saw Israel focus its public diplomacy efforts on the Arab media, especially the Palestinian media: it's not only the Negev communities that have been enjoying an unprecedented calm for the past 11 months -- it is Gaza Strip as well. Things have been calm since Operation Pillar of Defense and it is unlikely that Gaza misses the nightly fighter jets' flyovers or the one-ton bombs dropped from the sky.
Moreover, Gaza is still trying to recover and rebuild itself, and the revelation that Hamas has been using the concrete Israel allows into the Strip for its terror enterprise instead of for civilian construction, was a jolting one.
Hamas, in an attempt to defend its actions, issued its usual belligerent statements, but its strategic distress is becoming more evident, especially now that the Muslim Brotherhood no longer rule Egypt, and are in fact under siege by Cairo's military regime.
Hamas' conduct indicated that while it is still wary of a new round of escalation, the combination of strategic isolation, economic distress and political ineffectiveness, as well as the deadlocked reconciliation efforts with Fatah, may lead it to pursue acts of desperation, namely dig and operate the next tunnel.