Will the Gaza tunnel network prove to be Hamas’s Maginot Line?

An Israel-supporting friend was expressing gloom about the latest battle in the 75-year Arab-Israeli war. He cited an article by an armchair warrior about the IDF’s track record of failure in ground offenses:

Despite three weeks of bombing and 17 years of siege, Israel has been unable to curb Hamas’s ability to launch missiles deep within Israel. Israel lacks strategic depth, being one of the smallest countries in the region and with hostile or cold neighbors on all sides. It has nine power stations, out of which the second largest has been damaged by Hamas rockets.

Israel has not won a major ground campaign since the Battle of Jenin refugee camp in 2002. In 2006, Israel failed to advance four kilometers from Israel into Lebanon to capture the Lebanese town of Bint Jbeil. It even failed to fully capture Maroun El-Ras, a small village two kilometers from the border. There was much handwringing in Israel over the lessons of the 2006 Lebanon War, with many recommendations supposedly implemented by the IDF. This, however, did not change the fact that Israel was barely able to enter Gaza City’s Shujaiyya neighborhood in 2014, despite overwhelming firepower. Israel has not attempted a major ground incursion since then.

The article describes the tunnels built by Islamic Resistance Movement (“Hamas”) and the Party of Allah (“Hezbollah”) as strengths for Israel’s opponents. I wonder if these could instead be weaknesses (I wondered about this before in Can Israel find all of Hamas’s tunnels with ground-penetrating radar? And then what?) The tunnels are surely strong against any foreseen threat, but perhaps the IDF can come up with some unforeseen threats to the tunnels, e.g., against their ventilation systems or by using smarter radar and well-drilling equipment to insert explosives. In this case, the tunnels would become the Maginot Line, Jihad Edition. Built by the French, the Maginot Line is famous as an example of flawed military thinking. The Germans wouldn’t be able to go through it, so they wouldn’t be able to invade France. In 1940, however, the Germans simply drove around the line.

[Note that Wikipedia says that the real-world Maginot Line was not the Maginot Line of metaphor and the French were not as incompetent as we like to think:

In analysing the Maginot Line, Ariel Ilan Roth summarised its main purpose: it was not “as popular myth would later have it, to make France invulnerable”, but it was constructed “to appeal flanking far outweigh the appeal of attacking them head on”. … before construction in October 1927, the Superior Council of War adopted the final design for the line and identified that one of the main missions would be to deter a German cross-border assault with only minimal force to allow “the army time to mobilise.” In addition, the French envisioned that the Germans would conduct a repeat of their First World War battle plan to flank the defences and drew up their overall strategy with that in mind.

In other words, the line perhaps did function as designed.]

This is not to say that the Islamic Resistance Movement, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Party of Allah are doomed to defeat (I’m not confident in my armchair strategy skills). I’m just questioning whether the tunnels will prove to be a source of significant strength. Consider that if the battle goes on long enough and the West doesn’t resupply Hamas with fuel as a “humanitarian” effort, Hamas could simply run out of the fuel that it needs to generate electricity to ventilate the tunnels. A tunnel without ventilation has no military value. (See Book review for Bostonians: Trapped Under the Sea)

[On the third hand, maybe the Islamic Resistance Movement and friends did not expect to use the tunnels during an Israeli ground offensive. In that case, the tunnels would be exactly like the real Maginot Line.]

Separately, my friend is a loyal California Democrat who has spent two years expressing hatred for Ron DeSantis, the one presidential candidate who says flatly “no” to interfering with Israel’s military efforts and also “no” to accepting Gazans as immigrants to the U.S.:

Like my other California Democrat friends with advanced degrees and elite jobs, he enjoys pointing out how stupid working-class Americans are for voting Republican. They’re “voting against their own interest”, he has said. He, by contrast, has supported (a) increased immigration of Muslims, (b) the election of progressives such as AOC, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib to Congress, and (c) the defeat of Ron DeSantis, who has proved to be the most unequivocal supporter of Israel.


Posted in War

26 thoughts on “Will the Gaza tunnel network prove to be Hamas’s Maginot Line?

  1. Could the sea be diverted by digging a channel to flood Gaza? If Gaza floods, there is no way to keep a tunnel network that large from being flooded out right up to ground level.

    • I proposed this exact tactic except my idea includes filling the tunnels with sharks and having the IDF play baby shark in a continuous loop from speakers mounted in hovering helicopters.

  2. Take exception to your “unforseen” adjective.

    One could review the outcome @ Fort Drum, some variant of which will no doubt be used in the instant conflict.


    Constructing a vast tunnel network solves the attacker’s problem. Tunnels have been successful in defense against aerial bombardment. Results against infantry are mixed-to-catastrophic.

    The idea, advanced by some, that Gaza is Stalingrad and Hamas is the Soviet Army seem ludicrously overegged. Hamas is in a lousy tactical position.

    • Neither Russians/Soviets in phase I nor Germans in phase II of battle of Stalingrad dug any tunnels. It was fierce fighting all the way till the very end. I think that Hamas will get out of the tunnels and into the buildings and fight bloody door to door battles. Unlike in Stalingrad everyone will be screaming that Israel hurts civilians, even though putting military forces at civilian locations is a war crime in itself.

    • @perplexed

      I perceive the outlines of a cohesive tactical, operational, and strategic plan being implemented by the Israelis that should work, if executed to completion.

      Unfortunately for the rest of us, I think the only reasonable Hamas counter is taking civilian hostages, outside of Israel, and making demands that interfere with the above-mentioned plan.

  3. I think that Hamas will fight in civilian buildings in Gaza. Staying in tunnels during military action is a stupid survival strategy, it does not let deploy forces and prone to attrition eradication.

    • I’ve heard that Israeli prisons have better conditions then Hamas tunnels, including access to higher education through remote degrees.

  4. I am a bad person for not giving a crap about foreign people I will never meet, doing bad things to each other 7,000 miles away from my house?

    • Their ideology is probably next door to where you live , so you may want to be more vigilant . Not sure what you can do about it though !

    • AF: I think this makes you a BETTER than average person since the average person, at least at elite American universities, invests time and energy hating Israel. Even if you accept all of the worst accusations against Israel, the damage done by Israel is negligible compared to the damage done by the U.S. (an entire continent stolen from the indigenous; chattel slavery and all of our wealth today built on it (see the NYT 1619 Project!); killing 80,000+ civilians in a single bombing raid on Tokyo, killing civilians in Iraq, which had nothing to do with the 9/11 attack, etc.). Therefore, the most plausible explanation for this interest in criticizing Israel is hatred of Jews. If you don’t concern yourself with Israel, therefore, you’re less of a Jew-hater than average.

  5. What happens to the Israeli hostages ? Was surprised to see so much narrative around ceasefire now, but very little discourse on the hostages .

    • Anon: Nobody seems to care. The NYT just today has published an article about the suffering of the Palestinians. There is no suggestion that the Islamic Resistance Movement (“Hamas”) release any hostages. The author just wants Israel to stop its military actions against Hamas, which is quoted as an authoritative news source: “Israel has so far killed more than 8,000 people, the Gaza Health Ministry said, more than 40 percent of them children.”


    • Pavel: It is an impressive achievement that Israel has been successfully rebranded, e.g., by Muslims and their progressive allies, as a genocidal state. The US intentionally killed civilians in its bombing of Japanese and German cities (killed 80,000+ in one night; see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bombing_of_Tokyo_(10_March_1945) ) and caused 100,000+ civilian deaths in Iraq after 9/11 despite Iraq not having attacked us. The UK was eager to kill as many German civilians as possible with its night bombing campaigns on Germany (later joined by the US). Yet Israel is the country that is accused of intentional killing of civilians, though it makes no logical sense (as you say, the IDF could kill almost everyone in Gaza starting tomorrow either with nuclear weapons or with conventional bombs and artillery; if the IDF were to be tasked with killing civilians, a lot more would be dead).

      The EU/US-funded United Nations welfare agency for the Palestinians (the one that enables Hamas to spend 100 percent of the society’s resources on its military) says “The level of destruction is unprecedented.” (i.e., what Israel has done in Gaza is far worse than the burning and flattening of Japanese and German cities by the US and UK)

      The editors of the Guardian think that it is fair to characterize what is happening as “a vicious onslaught that has killed more than 8,000 Palestinians there has been an attempt to silence, intimidate and harass Palestinian sympathisers. Inevitably, it is Palestinians who suffer the brunt of a campaign to stigmatise even the most basic opposition to the mass slaughter of their people.” (the IDF is “vicious” and engaged in a campaign of “mass slaughter”, but has managed so far to kill only 8,000 people, including Hamas soldiers (Hamas itself, presumably, is the source of this statistic)) https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2023/oct/31/gaza-innocent-palestinians-silenced-sacked-free-speech

    • philg: My dark comment is not against Israel. After reading some of the reports from the rescue workers in Israel on what they found after the Hamas attacks, I would not be surprised at all if the people of Israel just said that is it, we do not care anymore what any other nation thinks, we are going to wipe out the Hamas from Gaza, unfortunately Hamas is Gaza. Hamas videos show brainwashed children talking about their dreams to kill Jews. The power and brainwashing of Hamas is probably the same or greater than the brain washing in North Korea. Hamas would not get into power and hold power unless they have the support of the majority in Gaza. They would need the support to reroute all the millions of dollars to building weapons and tunnels. How can you tell in Gaza that somebody is Hamas, do they all wear the same hat? I bet it is impossible. I think Hamas knows this and this is a big trap for the IDF, with the end goal of getting Hezbollah in Lebanon, Syria and Iran involved. If that happens and Israel’s survival is in danger, the tactical nukes will start flying.

    • Pavel: That is a good point. If interviewed by CNN right now, every Gazan not actually holding a rocket or rifle would say “I have nothing to do with Hamas”. We would reasonable infer from CNN/NYT/BBC that no Palestinian supports or has supported either the Islamic Resistance Movement or Palestinian Islamic Jihad. This raises the question, then, of who has enabled the maintenance of Hamas military capability for 20+ years.

    • The same article says “Eliyahu, of Itamar Ben Gvir’s far-right party, is not part of the security cabinet which is involved in the wartime decision-making, nor does he hold sway over the war cabinet directing the war against the Hamas terror group.”

      Morality aside, I don’t think it would make military sense to use a nuclear weapon. The Gazans would stream across the border into Egypt if Israel targeted civilians with its conventional bombs and artillery. It would look like the U.S. southern border.

    • philg: Yes, it would not make sense from a military perspective to nuke Gaza, since IDF has already reached the Mediterranean Sea and is in the process of wiping out Hamas, but unfortunately this approach is resulting in IDF casualties. It sounds like the current IDF casualties are below expect numbers.
      I do think Eliyahu statements on nuking Gaza do reflect what some Israelis are thinking after watching their fellow citizens shot, lit on fire, kidnapped and killed by Hamas.

      To get an estimate of what a low yield nuke would do in Gaza city, lets go to Dr. Evil’s favorite website, nukemap. Lets select the B-61 (easily carried by fighter jets), so we can be more precise in what we nuke instead of just nuking the entire region.
      Dial the B-61 down to 300 tons, go for the surface burst (for taking out the underground tunnels). Estimated fatalities at 8600 and injuries at 12110. The fireball would be 49 meters in diameter. The radiation radius at 0.68 km.

    • Pavel: even a lot of Americans hate America for using nuclear weapons, though we killed far more civilians with conventional bombs in both Japan and Germany. It would be less of a PR issue simply to maintain a fuel blockade and wait for the Islamic Resistance Movement and Palestinian Islamic Jihad soldiers to come out of their no-longer-ventilated tunnels.

      It looks like the Gazans are not worried about being bombed. They’re gathering in massive outdoor crowds. Here’s a photo from Nov 3: https://x.com/motazazaizagaza/status/1720500321217093964?s=20

      Hre’s a recent tweet of a massive crowd in the evening of November 4 surrounded by lit windows: https://x.com/giladerdan1/status/1721187061858697366?s=20 (this seems inconsistent with claims that hospitals and other critical systems in Gaza have run out of electricity)

    • I read feedback on Amichay Eliahu “nuke”. It was not really a nuke. He was answering a journo suggestive questions about slang for very large bombs and he replied something to the tune that yes, it was one of the options. Supposedly word nuclear was not used at all. Mr. Eliyahu has (had?) title of Heritage Minister, whatever it means. Definitely nothing related to any military or security staff.

  6. The Palestinians should have gone the peace route, agreed to be Israeli Arab citizens and just pump out babies like crazy until they over populated the area and out voted the Jewish population. You know, like the illegal immigrants in the USA.

    • Most of Israeli Arab citizens live normal lives and do not care about taking directions from Hamas; Israeli Bedouins form Negev region, while having elevated crime levels, taking over public lands and brawling with the authorities from time to time have also highest Arab Muslim representation of those serving in IDF. Overall Arab Israelis own most land in private ownership in Israel, despite being a minority. That’s because they neither attacked Jews in 1948 nor in 1967. Some of the tribes were persecuted by their former Arab rulers

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