Israel Starts Pumping Seawater Into Gaza Tunnels, After Russia Warned Against 'War Crime'

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by Tyler Durden
Tuesday, Dec 12, 2023 - 10:05 PM

Israel's previously reported somewhat far-fetched sounding plan to flood Gaza's underground network of tunnels, to flush out and kill Hamas operatives, is actually happening. 

"Israel’s military has begun to pump seawater into Hamas’s vast complex of tunnels in Gaza, according to U.S. officials briefed on the Israeli military’s operations, part of an intensive effort to destroy the underground infrastructure that has underpinned the group’s operations," The Wall Street Journal reports Tuesday. Water is being pumped from the nearby Mediterranean Sea.

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The plan was initially widely considered one military 'option' among several, and many observers saw it as unrealistic, given that the tunnels themselves stretch for miles and miles. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have not officially announced that it has initiated the plan, but have only said these operations remain classified.

But it's already happening, possibly already for days, writes WSJ: "Flooding the tunnels, which would likely be a weekslong process, began around the time Israel added two more pumps to the five pumps installed last month and conducted some initial tests, U.S. officials said."

Some US officials have previously expressed concern about the plan, also given the potential to kill more civilians and further destroy the Strip's infrastructure. A prime issue is that some 137 Israeli and foreign hostages remain in Hamas captivity after the end of last week's ceasefire and prisoner swap deal. 

Very likely all or many of them are being kept somewhere within the tunnel system and its cavernous rooms. Hamas even has subterranean offices and command centers within. Israel has thus far identified at least 800 tunnels, but believes the network is still much bigger than what's known.

"We are not sure how successful pumping will be since nobody knows the details of the tunnels and the ground around them," an unnamed security source told the WSJ last week. "It’s impossible to know if that will be effective because we don’t know how seawater will drain in tunnels no one has been in before."

There's also the question of the seawater destroying altogether what's left of the Strip's already badly damaged water system, which draws on Gaza’s increasingly saltier aquifer. The whole flooding initiative could also bring down more buildings or entire blocks, making the place uninhabitable for years to come. The White House has reportedly expressed concern to Israeli leaders over the likely disastrous humanitarian and ecological fallout.

Russia has been the strongest in warning against flooding the tunnels, saying it would be tantamount to a war crime. As cited in Newsweek days ago, the Kremlin said the following:

Russia said that reports of proposals to flood the tunnels were shocking and warned that "if done, this will be a war crime."

"Such flooding could be considered analogous to 'do not spare them' order, but it is not only about that and not only about civilians who may be in those tunnels," the statement read. "Of course, there most likely will be civilians, for where else would they go from the indiscriminate bombing of Gaza." When contacted for a response, the IDF told Newsweek it had "no comment" on Russia's claims.

Many pundits have questioned whether Israeli leadership is no longer adequately concerned about the hostage rescue aspect of its Gaza operations...

On a strategic level, the IDF is worried that sending infantry forces into the tunnels would blunt their superiority in terms of firepower and heavy armor. The military also fears the tunnels are booby-trapped in many places.

A month ago there were wild reports and speculations that Israel could pump Sarin gas or other chemical weapons into the tunnels. However, this is unlikely to have ever been a real option given the unpredictable nature and potential spread of nerve agents to confines not intended to be targeted (such as civilian homes, hospitals and buildings above the tunnels).