Israel Floods Gaza Tunnels: Balancing Security and Risks to People and Ecology

Israel is using seawater to flood tunnels in Gaza, raising concerns among U.S. authorities and experts about the impact on human lives and the environment, including potential contamination of water resources

Tunnel in Gaza
Tunnel in Gaza / Israel Defense Forces, CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED

Israel is taking measures against underground tunnels in the Gaza Strip area, employing a method of flooding them with seawater.

This move has raised concerns among U.S. authorities regarding potential risks to human lives and ecological consequences.

However, there are fears among experts about the risk of seawater penetrating underground aquifers and possibly damaging buildings located above the tunnels.

Moreover, flooding the tunnels could lead to serious ecological consequences, including pollution of Gaza's already weakened water supply and damage to agricultural lands.

These actions could violate international humanitarian law by causing long-term harm to the environment.

Pumping seawater into tunnels may contaminate local soils and groundwater, as well as increase water salinity.

This is particularly dangerous given that the coastal aquifer in Gaza is already polluted due to over-pumping and wastewater.

There are also concerns about the safety of Israeli hostages who might be in the tunnels.

Last month, some hostages released by Hamas spoke about their confinement in underground tunnels or shelters.

Prolonged and extensive flooding of the tunnel network could violate international humanitarian law norms that prohibit means of warfare intended or expected to cause widespread, long-term, and severe damage to the natural environment.

Such a violation of international humanitarian law becomes more likely, considering that the aquifer is crucial for the water needs of the civilian population and is already on the brink of long-term collapse.

In turn, Matthew Levitt, who heads the Counterterrorism and Intelligence Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy emphasized that when flooding tunnels with seawater, the main task is to render the tunnels unusable for further use, while minimizing the risk to human lives.

He pointed out a common misconception that the tunnels are completely filled with water, depriving them of oxygen, but in his opinion, this is not the case in practice.

Osama Hamdan from Hamas claims that the tunnels are designed to withstand such attacks, including bursts of water.

Reminder:

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