srael unveiled its plans for a vast underground wall around Gaza on Thursday, which military officials said would once and for all stop Hamas burrowing attack tunnels into Israeli territory.
The £500 million subterranean concrete barrier will run for 40 miles along the entire Israeli-Gaza border and is the first underground border wall of its kind in the world.
It is intended to prevent Hamas and other Islamist militant groups from using tunnels to launch surprise attacks into southern Israel.
The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) have destroyed three tunnels which infiltrated into Israel from Gaza in the last three months. A senior IDF official said he was confident that once the barrier was complete, tunnels would no longer pose a threat. “That will be it,” he said.
The barrier is expected to be completed within two years, officials said, and less than three miles have been finished so far. Underground sensors will help to detect any future tunnels while a 9-meter tall fence will prevent crossings overground.
Israeli officials refused to say how deep the wall would go but it is believed to be up to 100 meters below ground in some places.
The construction is taking place just a few dozen meters from the Gaza border and well within range of sniper fire from Hamas observations posts inside Gaza. Officials said Hamas had made no effort to disrupt the work for fear of Israeli retaliation strikes.
Construction workers, many of them Palestinians or foreigners, wear bulletproof vests and helmets as they move around the construction site. The military has built five concrete factories along the border dedicated entirely to making concrete for the enormous barrier.
The Israeli teams are working six days a week, extending the underground wall by around 10 meters a day, and pause only for the Jewish day of rest on Saturday. Hamas is believed to have a similarly intense tunnel-digging operation inside Gaza.
“Our guys rest on Saturday, their guys rest on Friday,” said one Israeli official, referring to the Islamic holy day on Fridays.
Israel has been haunted by the threat of underground tunnels since June 2006, when Palestinian fighters sprung out of tunnel near the Egyptian border, killing two soldiers and capturing another.
They held the captured soldier, Gilad Shalit, for five years before releasing him in return for more than 1,000 Palestinians imprisoned in Israel. During the 2014 Gaza war, a Hamas squad used a tunnel to carry out an ambush and killed five Israeli troops.
Israeli leaders have long feared that Hamas might be able to use the tunnels to attack civilians in one of the many kibbutzim or Israeli villages along the border.
Israel has an overground wall around parts of the West Bank but the International Court of Justice ruled that the wall was illegal because it was built on occupied Palestinian territory. The underground barrier around Gaza will be built entirely inside of Israel, officials said.
Israel, along with Egypt, has maintained a blockade on Gaza and its two million residents for more than a decade.
Israel says the blockade is necessary to stop weapons from getting to Hamas, while Palestinians and human rights group say it is a form of “collective punishment” on the people of Gaza.
The subterranean wall is being built using similar construction techniques to those used for the foundations of skyscrapers or large underground car parks. Israeli teams are digging into the earth and dropping down vast metal grates around which they pour concrete.
The wall will only be one-meter thick but officials said they were confident that the barrier would be enough to keep out future tunnels.
While the wall might neutralise the threat from tunnels, officials said they expected Hamas to continue investing in drones and heavier rockets to keep up their offensive capabilities.