I don’t know what has happened to Cpl. Gilad Shalit. I don’t know if he was captured, or, if he was, I don’t know how he was captured. Frankly, I don’t even know that he actually exists apart from the pictures of him that we have all seen. One hopes that these are all questions that will eventually be answered.
I do know, however, that there is something extraordinarily odd about the story the Israeli Defence Force claim is behind his disappearance. In particular it’s the part about the tunnel which I can’t get to grips with.
As an engineer I’ve given the notion of digging a tunnel which the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs tells us was some 650 metres long, dug under sand across the Gaza border into Israel some thought. I’m beginning to wonder whether this is actually feasible especially considering that it would have to be built covertly and across the terrain that Israel claims. A 650 metre long covert tunnel being constructed under sand is a considerable undertaking the logistics of which would be enormous. The tunnel, even a crawl tunnel measuring 900mm x 900mm in cross section, would require 100% full shoring if actually constructed in sand and at least 60% if constructed in clay/soil. That means all that shoring material, literally tonnes of it, would have to be loaded down the shaft of the tunnel head and then transported along the tunnel to the tunnel face where one man at the face would have to position it and then excavate out the next section of tunnel with all the problems that that involves in shifting the excavated material back down the tunnel to the head shaft where it would have to be disposed of. Rock would be out of the question because of the noise of hammering through it and the extra logistics of getting hammer equipment to the face.
Now, 0.9m wide x 0.9m high x 650m long tunnel would require 526 cubic metres of excavation to be removed at, say, 1.3 tonnes per cubic metre if dry, that’s 684 tonnes of dirt to dispose of. A good three-axle semi trailer would take about 30 tonnes a load so that’s about 23 semi-trailer loads.
A tunnel this size will also require ventilating. This could be done by boring vertical holes to the surface and simply casing the holes with flexible plastic pipe. However, there is a very large section of ploughed-up no-mans land that is under constant surveillance and a few bits of pipe sticking up out of the ground could arouse a suspicion that we be an unacceptable risk. Alternatively, a simple fan could be used to pump air along the tunnel but to fully ventilate a 650m long tunnel would require a fairly large fan to counter the back pressure of such a long pipe. Not impossible, but a lot of work.
The real problems in building a tunnel under these conditions is 1) the problem of disguising the head shaft of the tunnel, which could be solved by building from within an existing structure like a house or a shed, though this would not solve the problem of 2) disguising the delivery of equipment and shoring material and, worse, disposing of the excavated material.
The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs in their communiqué have included a photo-map of where they claim the incident took place and even where the tunnel is supposed to be. From this it is very easy to locate the same spot on Google Earth.
The images for this area are exceptionally clear and one can see very clearly the area being referred to and the adjoining and adjacent areas including the old and now disused Gaza airport. (One can clearly see that sections of the runways have been ripped up rendering them unserviceable.) One can also see clearly the area of no-mans land between the paddocks on the Israeli side of the fence where the Israeli soldiers were said to be and the sole small building that appears to be no larger than a shed where, if a tunnel was built at all, the head shaft would be located. Running the computers cursor from the paddocks to the shed and surrounding area one will notice that elevations vary only a few feet over many hundreds of metres. In other words the land is all but flat. One will also notice that it is featureless in terms of trees. All of this means that Israeli observation conditions of the area is very good. Very little over a period of time would escape surveillance their.
The bottom line is that it would be impossible to build a tunnel, especially under these conditions of secrecy that one needs to ask; was there really a tunnel? And, if not, then what’s the real story? Why have the Israelis lied – again?
 Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs Communiqué, ‘Two soldiers killed, one missing in Karem Shalom terror attack’, 25 June 2006. Available online: http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/Government/Communiques/2006/Two%20soldiers%20killed%20one%20missing%20in%20Kerem%20Shalom%20terror%20attack%2025-Jun-2006 Accessed 15 July 2006.
 Go to ‘Google Earth’, 31° 14’ 22.34” N, 34° 17’ 03.50” E,* Zoom in to Eye Altitude of around 10,000ft for clear view of entire area then zoom in for closer detail as required.
*This position is the correct one. My apologies to readers for any inconvenience caused by my typo. I hope everyone was able to locate the proper place despite the error.