It’s an art like no other. The roots go as far back as the medieval ages. It’s secretive and ruthless. It evokes horror and it terrorizes.
It’s historically allowed the weaker force to slip into the otherwise impenetrable fortifications through ferocious cocktails of manmade tunnels, underground cavities, passageways, sewers and even water pipelines.
It’s called Tunnel Warfare.
In today’s Lebanon, the country in which the powerful Hezbollah movement mastered some of the most sophisticated labyrinth of tunnel systems ever known, a potentially cataclysmic scenario in the minds of its military strategists is now becoming incessantly prevalent.
It’s the possibility that Al Qaeda affiliates and their largely mercenary-extremist Syrian caliber, are hell-bent in plotting to tunnel their way into striking at the movement’s civilian epicenters in a desperate attempt at traversing the insurmountable task of delivering infantry-style blows against their now heavily fortified constituencies.
And the reason this possibility has gone into overload on the part of Hezbollah was an astonishing event, all captured on camera as a supposed mark of heroicness for the world to see, which took place in northern Syria earlier this year.
In an exercise of what can only be described as ballsy audaciousness, a group of callously murdering Jihadists acolytes detonated in excess of sixty tones of explosives into an 850-long tunnel that was dug beneath a hillside Syrian army base, rendering it to huge cloud of dust and killing everyone inside it.
Although the exact date of the first such Jihadist foray into the world of successful tunnel bombing cannot be ascertained accurately, its unfathomable that those monitoring the evolving logic of military strategy in Syria would reject the possibility of this spectacle being repeated in neighboring Lebanon against the one adversary that’s mercilessly routed them at every passing opportunity: Hezbollah
In any case, the hillside attack immediately prompted Hezbollah’s military cadres to begin round-the-clock strategizing on how to best deny, via a combination of their own intelligence deployment or in liaison with the Lebanese Security Forces, the elements that would allow for the tunneling potentiate to come into fruition.
One of the first indicative events that authenticated how proximate the potential of what this new threat posed took place a little over two months ago.
Hezbollah’s intelligence operatives, on clandestinely routine prowls, discovered an old civil war era underground passage that was initially designed to link two prominent Palestinian refugee camps located within the vicinity of Beirut’s southern suburbs.
The only problem with the discovery was that yet unknown parties had mysteriously made a timely decision to secretly continue with its completion, in a manner that was stealthily, but dangerously, proceeding apace.
The discovery in turn coincided with Hezbollah’s security agents suddenly deploying en masse and surrounding two Hezbollah-linked hospitals that were located close to the underground passage’s vicinity.
Although the potential for a tunnel-type attack being imminent was never declared, probably for reasons of operational secrecy, the deployment was instead syndicated by Hezbollah-affiliated media organizations as designed to counter the possibility of ‘explosive charges’ or other armed attacks being conspired against the two symbolic hospitals.
But it’s now become an open secret in Beirut’s southern Suburbs at least, that Hezbollah’s operatives have been busy scouting-out and doing the mathematical calculations for, factors that might unravel the possible modus operandi of those daring to tunnel their way into the Hezbollah heartlands.
For one thing, it’s highly unlikely that this monotonous reconnoitering is taking place anywhere other than in areas proximate to Beirut’s southern suburbs.
That’s because the subterranean geography that exists in Beirut, unlike that of the rocky, mountainous and porous south Lebanon and Bekaa Valley regions, would naturally be more benign for the Jihadist tunnel excavating endeavors to be carried out.
In addition to this, making use of neighborhood cover in parts of Beirut that are hostile to Hezbollah would prove to be a decisive conduit for the type of slow tunneling, usually from the floors of houses, mosques or schools – that they’re most likely proceeding with.
Yet it’s this very factor that makes it an enormous task for Hezbollah, and the Lebanese security forces, to try and uncover.
Since for reasons of secrecy the Jihadist’s wouldn’t be resorting to motorized tunnel diggers, the long and winding process of removing earth via various camouflaged ruses, pumping ground water, concreting walls and roofs, establishing electrical lighting links, shaft construction and the procurement of materials; must be done in the utmost of secrecy.
The idea is to conceal their underground sojourn right up until the immediate point of engagement, hoping to force the more powerful Hezbollah to counter by negating their own combat methods and from where their military might recedes—all to the advantage of the attackers.
However, being one of the leading protagonists of tunnel warfare in the last two decades, Hezbollah is hardly going to be outside of the loop on how clandestine tunneling is carried out.
Since it can’t randomly go in and search house-by-house trying to locate tunnel access, ventilation shafts, by-passes or exit points in addition to other clue-indicative factors, its operational plan must involve trying to get inside the head of the attackers.
This explains the immediate recourse to increased electronic and other human intelligence gathering operations, both inside and outside of Lebanon, in order to try and decipher the most probable branch layouts, routines, relative distances to likely targets, mapping of favorable attack positions and the assistance those planning the tunnel excavations are likely becoming recipients of.
It’s only at this point can they hope of exposing the terrorists general strategy, that once their weak side becomes obvious—it makes it possible for them to find, engage and ultimately destroy them.
Despite lingering voices of doubt from some corners, the potential for this kind of Jihadist adventurism coming to light is neither a case of mere fantasy nor that of collectively ticking-off whiteboard brainstorms in one of the movement’s compendium of bunkered war rooms.
Although it’s safe to say that these tunnel dreams are hardly a case of newfound grand operational strategies or even short-term military tactics, they are designed to deliver propagandist messages to the core of their Lebanese nemesis’s support base.
But that certainly isn’t a reason to become passive about their potential for causing an urban calamity.
After all, people who espouse that Almighty God calls the shots in all that they do, that the logic of their brutal terrorist campaigns and the will of God are one and the same, are probably not the type people whom you would want to treat with kid gloves in the prevailing situation.