The Israeli military’s strategic response to the persistent threat posed by Hamas in the Gaza Strip includes a specialized unit known as the Yahalom commando team. In recent days, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have escalated their ground campaign against Hamas, targeting hundreds of fighters and demolishing key enemy infrastructure.

Central to this effort is the IDF’s focus on countering Hamas’s intricate network of underground tunnels, a formidable challenge given the group’s adept use of covert tactics.

With Hamas fighters retreating into a labyrinth of tunnels upon the entry of enemy forces into the Gaza Strip, the IDF faces a unique set of challenges. These tunnels serve not only as hiding places for militants but also as conduits for transporting weapons and goods.

Notably, on November 2, Hamas released a video showcasing a gunman emerging from a tunnel to plant an explosive device on an IDF tank, demonstrating the group’s adaptability and audacity.

To confront this “underground stronghold” of Hamas, the IDF relies on the Yahalom unit, a force trained specifically for urban warfare environments and underground operations. During the 2014 ground attack in Gaza, Yahalom played a pivotal role in dismantling numerous tunnel systems.

Established in 1995 and affiliated with the IDF’s Engineer Corps, the unit comprises several companies, each specializing in distinct roles, such as tunnel infiltration, handling non-traditional weapons, and conducting sabotage and demining activities.

Recent developments indicate that Yahalom is actively engaged in the current campaign, cooperating with other units to launch “special operations” aimed at destroying Hamas tunnels. The IDF announced on November 3 that Yahalom successfully located tunnel entrances, planted explosives, and neutralized the threats.

The selection process for Yahalom is rigorous, requiring candidates to undergo a 4-day testing period followed by a comprehensive 16-month training course. This training encompasses mine clearance, sabotage, anti-terrorism tactics, and diverse skills like Krav Maga, skydiving, and rope climbing. Despite being thoroughly prepared, Yahalom members acknowledge tunnel warfare’s dynamic and unpredictable nature.

Lieutenant Hezi, a Yahalom member, emphasized the need for constant readiness and improvisation, stating, “No two tunnels are the same. The first person to enter the tunnel must always be ready to improvise.” Intelligence work is identified as a major challenge, as Hamas forces are prepared to collapse tunnels to harm IDF soldiers once inside.

In the current campaign, with reports suggesting that Hamas is holding hostages in the Gaza Strip, Yahalom faces an additional layer of complexity. The unit must carefully weigh its actions to ensure the safety of hostages while addressing the persistent threat posed by Hamas’s evolving tunnel system.

Experts, including John Spencer from the Modern War Institute at the US Army Academy West Point, highlight the advanced tools at Yahalom’s disposal, such as unmanned pilots, robots, air and ground sensors, drills, night vision goggles, and radio equipment. However, the ever-changing nature of Hamas’s tunnel system introduces an element of surprise for Israeli soldiers.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently visited the Yahalom unit to receive a progress report. During the meeting, he emphasized the unit’s crucial role in the ongoing campaign against Hamas, reiterating the commitment to dismantle the group. Netanyahu affirmed, “We have only one mission, which is to take down Hamas. We will not stop until we complete it, with your help,” underscoring the Israeli people’s reliance on the Yahalom unit for the success of this mission.