GAZA WARIDF’s Subterranean Challenge: Profiling Gaza Metro, Hamas’s Center of Gravity

By Rajneesh Singh

Published 2 January 2024

The subterranean infrastructure developed by Hamas, popularly known as the Gaza Metro, consists of tunnels, command and control centers, living spaces, stores and contingency fighting positions. The infrastructure is the pivot of Hamas’s irregular warfare strategy and allows it to undertake both offensive and defensive operations and has been assessed as one of its centers of gravity. Israel has been aware of the infrastructure but has possibly been surprised by the scale and sophistication achieved by Hamas in tunnel construction. The IDF’s technologies and doctrinal concepts are being tested every day in the ongoing war and will have a number of lessons for other armies.  

Hamas has developed a complex subterranean infrastructure consisting of tunnels, command and control centers, living accommodation, stores and contingency fighting positions. The tunnels also have designated spaces for rocket-assembly lines, explosive stores, and warhead fabrication workshops.1 This infrastructure is famously known as the ‘Gaza Metro’.  The Metro is reinforced by concrete and other building material and protected by blast doors, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and booby traps.

The tunnels have been in use since at least the early 1980s, and members of various Palestinian insurgent organizations have been known to use them since the first Intifada, beginning in 1987.2 In the aftermath of the 2021 Israel–Hamas conflict, Hamas leader, Yahya Sinwar claimed that Hamas has 500 kilometers of tunnel system and that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has damaged only 5 per cent of it.3 There is no way to verify Sinwar’s claim but is indicative of the magnitude of challenge the IDF faces in the ongoing war.

Tunnel warfare is not new and dates to the ancient times. Jews used them against Romans in Judea in the first century.4 In the more recent times, the tunnels have been used in the battles of the Vimy Ridge, Messines and Somme of World War I, by the Viet Congs in Vietnam and in Mariupol, Bakhmut, and Soledar during the ongoing war in Ukraine.5

The Brief delves into the multifaced dimensions of the Gaza Metro and seeks to flag its origins, development, and the strategic implications on the ongoing war. It also focusses on the IDF’s concerted efforts in developing technologies and deploying specialized forces to detect and dismantle this clandestine infrastructure.