Hamas is prioritizing offensive and defensive underground efforts above all else, a senior IDF officer said Sunday.

The Israeli military is preparing itself and training its soldiers for tunnel warfare, with the intention of transforming the arena of underground combat into a ‘death trap’ for the Islamist group’s terrorists, should another round of conflict be triggered.

The senior officer said he believed that in a future conflict Hamas would seek to catch the Israeli military off guard, with surprise tunnel raids aimed at attacking border communities and carrying out abductions. He noted that plans for the evacuation of these communities had been prepared and could be executed if deemed necessary.

Hamas is thought to have reached the conclusion from past conflict that it can attack Israel from different locations and it is therefore in the process of developing networks in Lebanon, the Syrian Golan Heights, and the Sinai Peninsula. The attacks from other areas will relieve pressure on Gaza during combat. The networks would be dependent on Palestinian militants in these areas.

The senior officer also addressed recent reports that Khaled Mashaal, the head of Hamas’ political bureau, will step down next year. He warned that the option of Mashaal being replaced by Ismail Haniyeh could signal a strengthening of the group’s military wing, at the expense of the political wing, which is considered more moderate.

There has been considerable tension between the two branches since Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014.

He also described the aid given by Hamas to ISIS’s Sinai affiliate, which he said includes financial, military and instructional assistance. It is assumed that the Hamas political bureau, while aware of this aid, is not happy with it and that these efforts are conducted by the group’s military wing.

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The group’s military commanders have developed a partnership with ISIS in Sinai out of necessity, despite some conflicting interests. ISIS terrorists facilitate the smuggling of arms and goods into Gaza through tunnels running under the Egyptian border. In return, the IS Sinai branch receives a cut of the weaponry brought in from Libya and Sudan, while injured ISIS terrorists are occasionally smuggled into Gaza for treatment in hospital.

The senior IDF officer stressed that neither Israel, nor Hamas, have any interest in conflict at the moment. The ISIS branch in Sinai is also thought to be focused on its efforts against the Egyptian military, and not interested in direct conflict with Israel. He emphasized however, that at least as far as the terrorists groups are concerned, the current situation could easily change, within a short space of time.

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