Israel may try to drive Hamas out of its tunnels in Gaza by pumping them full of seawater: WSJ

  • Israel has a plan to flood Hamas tunnels in Gaza using seawater pumps, per The Wall Street Journal.

  • Israel's military said the tunnel system is used to transport Hamas weapons and militants.

  • Experts say flooding the tunnels could pollute Gaza's already scarce water supply.

Israel is exploring the option of using a system of pumps to flood Hamas' network of tunnels, forcing militants out into the open, according to The Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed US officials.

Early last month, Israel communicated to the US that it was considering the option, which involves at least five large seawater pumps drawing water from the Mediterranean Sea and directing it into the tunnels, officials told the Journal.

The pumps, which are roughly a mile north of the Al-Shati refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip, can move thousands of cubic meters per hour and could flood the tunnels within weeks, the Journal reported.

The idea is that the deluge of water would force Hamas militants, and potentially hostages, out of the tunnel network and onto Gaza's streets.

Israel says that there are more than 130 hostages still in Gaza. The hostages were taken during Hamas' terrorist attacks on Israel on October 7, which killed some 1,400 people.

In response to the attacks, Israeli officials vowed to crush Hamas, leading to retaliatory strikes and a ground invasion, which Gaza's health authority says has killed more than 15,000 people.

During the offensive, the Israel Defense Forces said it had uncovered more than 800 tunnel shafts, with about 500 having been destroyed.

The effectiveness of flooding to destroy other parts of the tunnel network is unclear, given the lack of details surrounding it, a person familiar with the plan told the Journal.

"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," the person, who was not named, said.

Hamas' tunnel system, known as the "metro," is believed to extend some 300 miles. The IDF claims there are access points hidden inside buildings like schools and hospitals.

The IDF also says the tunnels lead into Israeli territory and can be used to transport weapons.

There are a lot of unknowns about the tunnel system, including how permeable they are and how much seawater could seep into the surrounding soil, according to one expert on the Middle East.

Jon Alterman, senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told the Journal that this makes it hard to ascertain how much damage flooding the tunnels could do to the surrounding environment and Gaza's already scarce water supply.

"It's hard to tell what pumping seawater will do to the existing water and sewage infrastructure," he said, adding that it is also hard to tell what it will do to groundwater reserves.

Reuters reported that there are severe shortages of water in Gaza.

The strip's only natural source of water, the coastal aquifer basin, which the population draws from for drinking, is already heavily polluted, according to 2020 research by the human rights organization B'Tselem.

Wim Zwijnenburg, who works for PAX, a Netherlands-based peace organization, told the Journal that flooding the tunnels could exacerbate that pollution.

He added that hazardous substances stored by Hamas in the tunnels could also seep into the ground.

It's unclear if the Israeli government has decided to move ahead with the plan or not. A spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces said "no comment" when approached by Business Insider.

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