The battlefields in the contemporary conflicts in the Middle East are multi-level conflicts. They take place in the air and on the ground, but an important and often overlooked dimension of these conflicts is found under the surface. This article recognizes the usefulness of political geography's ‘volumetric turn’ as it examines the use of tunnels in conflict, particularly in the post-2001 conflicts in the Middle East. It asks questions about who uses tunnels, for which purposes and about the impact of tunnels on conflicts. It proceeds to show how tunnels are used by a range of actors (including states, insurgents, civilians and organized crime groups) for various, often overlapping purposes (including offensive, defensive and smuggling/economic purposes). The article argues that tunnels impact on conflicts by benefiting the weaker side in asymmetrical warfare, by directly affecting states’ military strategy, by either generating or challenging political legitimacy and lastly, by becoming central to the economic survival of civilians in conflict. A greater recognition of the subterranean dimension of contemporary Middle Eastern conflicts will provide a more nuanced understanding of the duration, intensity and consequences of these wars.
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Department of Social Sciences
Year of publication: 2022Date of RADAR deposit: 2022-01-17
“This is a pre-copyedited, author-produced version of an article accepted for publication in International Affairs following peer review. The version of record 'The impact of tunnels on conflicts in the Middle East' is available online at DOI https://doi.org/10.1093/ia/iiab230."