Throughout history, civilians and guerilla fighters have burrowed underground to escape from, or to gain tactical advantage against, stronger adversaries. In Israel, underground tunnels and caves dating to the time of the Great Revolt (66–70 C.E.) have been found in the Galilee, while others, dating from the time of the Bar-Kokhba Revolt (132–135 C.E.)—like those at Horvat ‘Ethri—have been found near Beit Guvrin and Lachish.

Elsewhere, centuries before the Common Era, the residents of Cappadocia (in what is today southeastern Turkey) excavated a network of 150–200 underground settlements to serve as a place of refuge in times of war. (Some of the larger underground cities, such as Derinkuyu, could accommodate thousands of people for several months.) Some of these were later used by early Christians fleeing persecution at the hands of the Romans.

During the Mongol invasion of Afghanistan (1221 C.E.), Afghan villagers hid from the invaders in manmade underground irrigation shafts and tunnels (known locally as karez). Centuries later, during the Soviet occupation (1979–1989), Afghan mujahidin (“holy warriors”) hid from pursuing Soviet forces in these same karez. The mujahidin also used natural mountainside caves as command posts and staging areas for their operations. Many of these were later used by Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters during the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

And during the Vietnam War (1963–1975), the Viet Cong built an extensive network of tunnels in South Vietnam to provide protection from American firepower and from which to stage attacks. Two examples of these, the underground village at Vinh Moc (home to 400 people for six years) and sections of the infamous tunnels at Cu Chi (a massive complex consisting of more than 75 miles of tunnels), survive to this day as tourist attractions.

—Michael Eisenstadt, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy