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Israeli unveils new tunnel warfare techniques

Updated: 2012-03-08 10:30
( Xinhua)

Israeli unveils new tunnel warfare techniques

An Israeli commando from the engineering corps Yahalom ("Diamond") unit takes part in a tunnel-hunting drill in Sirkin special forces base, near Tel Aviv March 7, 2012. [Photo/Agencies]

JERUSALEM - As part of preparations for future conflicts in Lebanon and the Gaza Stripe, the Israeli military has devised new techniques for combating in underground tunnels used by militants, the Ha'aretz daily reported Wednesday.

The methods were developed based on lessons drawn from the 2006 Lebanon War, when Israeli troops were largely caught ill-prepared to deal with what has since become known as "nature reserves" -- intricate underground tunnel systems used by Hezbollah to store rockets and ambush Israeli forces.

Three years later, troops encountered similar, albeit less sophisticated, tunnels during Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli army's large-scale foray into the Gaza Strip to curtail Hamas' intermittent rocket attacks on southern Israel.

The Israeli army invited the media to view a drill conducted by members of Yahalom, a unit in the Engineering Corps specializing in tunnel warfare, at a newly-built urban warfare training facility that includes a tunnel system similar to those used by militant groups.

A dog specially trained to sniff out explosives was first sent to scour the exterior surroundings of a structure rigged with mock booby traps. Only then did the soldiers approach the structure, and dispatched a miniature robot fitted with a camera to scan its interior before storming it. Once inside, they tore up a segment of a wall, exposing the entrance of a tunnel.

"We are drilling an integrated technique designed to provide a response to what we call the underground threat," said Lt. Col. Sahar Aberjil, the commander of the Yahalom unit, according to Ha' aretz.

"The preliminary phase of locating the tunnel and reaching it, not the tunnel itself, is the real challenge," he said. "The structure was built according to models of real homes used by militants, and the drill simulates warfare on any front, whether in Lebanon or Gaza."

While Aberjil's unit is slated to spearhead tunnel warfare operations in a future conflict, the army's special operation forces have also been training at the facility since its inauguration a few months ago.

Aberjil said that as a rule of thumb, the army prefers not to send troops to physically scour tunnels in order to avoid casualties. Only in rare circumstances, such as when a soldier is kidnapped or when critical intelligence can be collected, are troops sent inside.

Israeli military intelligence estimates that Hezbollah has constructed dozens of underground bunkers since 2006, while Hamas still heavily relies on tunnels for rocket launching operations and smuggling weapons and munitions into Gaza.

"We are monitoring events that are taking place around us -- in the north and all other fronts," said Maj. Gen. Sami Turgeman, Israeli army's Ground Forces Commander.

He said that the military will have no choice but to allot additional resources, mainly manpower, in order to adequately deal with "extreme scenarios" that could unfold in the region.

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