A few days ago, writing the phrase "sponge bombs" in English (Sponge Bombs) on the search engine "Google" brings you results related to a children's game, which is water balls made of sponge strips, but the atmosphere of war in Gaza affected this game, and became the name of what a British newspaper said, that it is the latest chemical weapon that the Israeli occupation will use in the war in the Gaza Strip.

The British newspaper "Telegraph" said that the Israeli occupation will introduce this chemical weapon in its ground war in the Strip, to attack the tunnels used by fighters of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas).

Western and Arab media rushed to convey the content of what the British newspaper reported, to decline the results of children's play on the search engine, in favor of talking about this "alleged weapon."

Quick-hardening and stretching foam

The Telegraph report published last Wednesday did not cite any sources, whether registered or unknown, and explicitly said that "the Israeli occupation army did not talk about the use of this weapon," but the mechanism of its work mentioned in the report, talks about the production of rapidly hardening and expanding foam, such as which is widely used commercially for a long time in many peaceful applications, and has recently become involved in some military uses, so it, as confirmed by experts polled by "Al Jazeera Net" their opinions, is not a new weapon, Its military use also requires conditions, which may not make it the appropriate weapon for tunnel warfare.

Ahmed Ismail, a professor in the Department of Polymers and Fertilizers at the National Research Center in Egypt, said in telephone statements that "rapidly hardening and expanding foam is produced by mixing polyolefin and isocyanide, and has been used in various commercial applications since World War II, where it enters the construction of the insulating material with electrical appliances, as well as enters the manufacture of various parts of the car such as the dashboard and steering wheel, and it also enters into construction work, to fill the voids when installing new doors, or to repair Some defects that appear when building."

Ismail does not deny that this foam produces a rock-hardened material that needs a hammer in order to scratch it, but he believes that using it in the context of military operations in tunnels can be difficult, and it may not be the right choice.

He explains that one of the products of the interaction between "polyolefin" and "isocyanide" is carbon dioxide gas, which will become denser in the environment of underground tunnels, so the use of foam may result in harm to those who use it.

The Telegraph report spoke of possible eye injuries, amounting to loss of sight among some soldiers during training in the use of these foams in a training camp that is a mock tunnel system at the "Taksim" military base near the border with Gaza, but Ismail talks about what is more serious, which is suffocation leading to death, as a result of the high levels of carbon dioxide underground.

Between Civil Engineering and Security Applications

Although studies in civil engineering since the nineties, such as those published by Grant Fundao, a professor in the Department of Industrial Engineering at Texas Tech University in America, on the website of the Defense Technical Information Center in March 1993, may respond to what Ismail pointed out, talking about the effectiveness of using such foams in producing a lining to mitigate shock waves in tunnels, indicating that what the Israeli occupation can do is to repurpose this construction application in Mahmoud Hassanein, a professor in the Department of Civil Engineering at Egypt's South Valley University, responds that the context in military application will be different.

Hassanein says in telephone remarks to Al Jazeera Net, "When we use foams in construction applications, it is in a very controlled environment, prevent damage, but in the military context, the other party will not allow the implementation of this without intervention, as well as the need for foam to be faster in hardening than commercial installations currently available, and this challenge is not required in construction."

The solution to those challenges outlined by Hassanein may be in the quick-hardening foams that are used, or at least tested, by the military and security forces in the United States.

The U.S. Marine Corps used field devices designed to release streams of sticky foam as a non-lethal tool to immobilize hostile personnel, and some Marine units sent to Somalia in the nineties were using the technology.

In 2009, the U.S. military awarded a contract for Adherent Technologies, which produces viscous materials, to work on a material similar to that used by the Marines, which the company claimed at the time provided foam strong enough to be used to stop commercial cars and trucks in their lanes.

Dispensers filled with super-stick stabilization foam are also known to be among the defensive features found in trucks used by the U.S. Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration to transport nuclear weapons and other related sensitive shipments.

The U.S. Department of Energy's Sandia National Laboratories has also developed a foam material to handle bombs filled with chemicals, similar to common firefighting foams but specifically designed to trap radioactive particles that may be present in a bomb.

The Tunnel Finding Challenge

Military applications of quick-hardening foam do not fall under the category of chemical weapons, according to Oliver Terzic, of the inspection department of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague, the Netherlands, who said in emailed statements about the alleged sponge bomb that it "does not fall into the category of so-called 'chemical warfare weapons', as chemical weapons are designed to get their cargo to the target, and they affect people primarily by causing physiological effects."

It added that the alleged sponge bomb appears to be "designed to create a physical barrier, that is, it is more like an engineering weapon, and certainly does not fall under the classification of chemical weapons, as stipulated in the Convention governing this type of weapon."

Theodore Postol, a professor of engineering, technology and national security policy in the Science, Technology and Society Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in America, did not pay attention to the technical details of the weapon, and whether it can be operated in the tunnel environment or not, but pointed to what is more important, from his point of view, which is the challenge of information, and said in telephone statements that "just finding the tunnels is a big challenge, before talking about the mechanism of their destruction."

Postol believes that specialized teams in the IDF's engineering corps, equipped with ground and air sensors, ground-penetrating radar and special drilling systems, have so far failed to locate the tunnels.

In addition, if found, the question posed by Postol is how to ensure the safety of Israeli hostages held in these tunnels.

Mazen Qumisa, director and founder of the Palestine Museum for Natural History and the Palestine Institute for Biodiversity and Sustainability at Bethlehem University, said in emails that it would not be helpful to close the tunnels with this alleged weapon.

"It will not be difficult for people under the ground to open new openings, given the soft soil of much of the Gaza Strip," he explains.

Accordingly, he believes that "whether the Israeli occupation army possesses the sponge bomb weapon or not, it is doomed to failure, because the environment of the tunnels seems far from being used, and talking about its existence may be like psychological warfare in which the Western media is employed."