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Tunnel Vision

Eliezer Shulman

The discovery of the secret “mega-tunnel” that stretched from Khan Yunis in Gaza across the border to Kibbutz Ein HaShloshah sent tremors through the population. For years Hamas and other terror cells have been using tunnels to smuggle weapons — and people — from Egypt to the Gaza Strip, yet this was something new: A plan to seize Israelis and whisk them away in a subterranean hideout. But the army has its own weapon — a specialized unit that can engage the enemy in those airless, black passageways.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

“It’s hard for me to breathe,” I pleaded with Lieutenant Colonel S., the commander of Yahalom (Yechidat HaHandasah L’Mesimot Meyuchadot — the Special Operations Engineering Unit). We were snaking through one of the terrorist tunnels the IDF had uncovered just a few days before. A half hour earlier, S. (possibly sizing up my constitution) had tried to dissuade me, but I insisted on seeing the underground weapons and abduction network for myself. 

The passageway was dark, narrow, and suffocating. And S. didn’t hold back a single horror story or terrifying possibility. “Just be aware that at any moment, there is the danger of collapse. After all, this tunnel wasn’t built to any engineering standards,” he pointed out matter-of-factly as we made our way through the underground passage.

“Could it collapse even here?” I asked, certain his answer would calm me down.

“Of course, it could collapse even here,” he said as he continued moving forward serenely, as if he were taking a stroll in the middle of Geulah. “Here, look at the sand,” he said, pointing to the ceiling above our heads. “It’s moist. It isn’t even tightly packed.” But that didn’t stop him from pushing forward. 

I asked if we still had a long way ahead of us. “Another 15 minutes,” he answered. Fifteen minutes of walking through a perilous tunnel that was about to collapse and bury me alive. A few seconds later, I began to feel the air thinning and my breathing became labored. But S. didn’t seem too perturbed. “We’ll be out in a minute,” he said, turning to me with a reassuring smile. “We’ll be outside in 40 seconds.”

I began to breathe normally again.

“That’s what a soldier in the unit feels like,” he remarked once we emerged into sunlight again.

 

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