Outsmarted by a tunnel
Does Israel have someone to turn to within the Palestinian Authority? Can Israel negotiate with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) when he is incapable of preventing Palestinian attacks on Israel? If he is incapable of preventing continued violence, it is doubtful whether there is a reason or purpose in conducting negotiations with him.
Is the Hamas government a better place for Israel to turn in an effort to win the release of the wounded soldier who has been abducted? Israel says it will not negotiate with Hamas, but for the sake of saving the soldier, it will certainly agree to indirect mediation, and the Egyptians have offered their services.
Israel has no choice, and is holding Abu Mazen and the Hamas government responsible for yesterday's attack on soldiers near the Kerem Shalom crossing on the Gaza-Israel border, in which two soldiers were killed and another was kidnapped. This is the official "address," but we must recognize that Israel is facing an outlaw Palestinian entity that has many such addresses, with each one canceling out the other. Hamas also has many addresses, including one in Damascus. For this reason, Israel has no choice but to let the Egyptians mediate between it and Hamas at this stage.
The initial Israeli effort will focus on the abducted soldier. His captors reportedly removed him from the damaged tank, and he walked from there to the breached section of the fence. Just where his wounds are, is not known. Two of the soldiers in the tank with him, including his commander, were killed by an RPG rocket, and a third was seriously hurt. This indicates that Israel will certainly leave time for mediation in order to bring the soldier back.
At the same time, Israel cannot ignore the fact that a war is underway along the Gaza Strip border. Yesterday morning, after the Kerem Shalom incident, the Palestinians continued to fire Qassam rockets at Sderot. Ironically, Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh met with Abu Mazen, and they agreed on the need to return to maintaining the security lull (tahadiyeh).
However, the complicated political aspects of the attack cannot provide cover for the Israel Defense Forces' operational failure. We must acknowledge that the soldiers who displayed courage should be counted as a military victory. One of the three Palestinian cells that carried out the attack was killed by the Bedouin soldiers in the desert unit, even though the Palestinians took the soldiers in the tank by surprise by firing from the rear. The desert unit opened fire on a Palestinian cell setting a bomb near the fence surrounding Gaza.
Although the IDF has known about the danger of tunnels that assailants could use, the army failed to prevent it from happening. Intelligence officials issued a general warning, but did not manage to pinpoint the exact tunnel location. The Palestinians spent a long time digging the 530-meter tunnel, which opened into a thicket, but the digging went unnoticed. Just as the Qassam rockets require crude technology but continue unabated, the technological wonders of the IDF are unable to counter the simple act of digging a tunnel. We can only conclude that despite significant investment in equipment meant to detect and destroy tunnels, there is in effect no operational solution for this problem.