Hamas Tunnel Polemics Are an Ugly Evolution of a Failed War

Until today, not a single voice, including from the opposition, has been clearly heard questioning the point of these "operations' in Gaza.

IDF forces working to uncover tunnels leading from the Gaza Strip into Israel, on April 18, 2016.
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The current polemics over Hamas tunnels are no more than an ugly political evolution of the failed war in Gaza in 2014. The media and public, incidentally, are still collaborating in the whitewashing of the failure and are willingly minimizing its lack of significant achievements.

It’s called “Operation Protective Edge” by one and all — a small campaign, focused and selected, a 60-second sting. But we’re actually talking about a 50-day war that took the lives of 67 soldiers and six Israeli civilians, as well as over 2,000 Palestinians, including more than 500 children. It was a war that, even if it did weaken Hamas, which prefers for now to refrain from another bloody round with Israel, did not bring quiet to the residents of southern communities, who still go to sleep while channels of anxiety are being dug underneath them.

The arguments taking place two years after the war’s end have not dealt, so far, with possible solutions to the Gazan nightmare, which is undermining us, focusing instead on the question of whether the tunnels were discussed at a cabinet meeting in November 2013.

Now, as then, politicians are behaving like commentators, trading blows on issues relating to ego and image: who said what and when. The fomenter of this unrest is not only the upcoming State Comptroller report on the war, which will also end up being used as ammunition in political battles, which sweep up everything — wars, grief, committees, recommendations — in the quest for scoring points.

Facing Channel 2 TV cameras on Wednesday night, Yair Lapid said his interest was in the truth — which was missing in Benjamin Netanyahu's extensive briefing to military correspondents in which he said that not only was the tunnel threat extensively discussed by the cabinet, but that the war was a great success.

“There were no in-depth discussions of the border-crossing tunnels before June 2014,” said Lapid. “What the prime minister is saying is untrue. This is of concern. Not only because the prime minister is saying something which is false, but because the entire military doctrine of the Israel Defense Fores is based on not denying events in an attempt to whitewash them or plaster them over. With an almost cruel courage they are examined for their veracity.”

It was the same Lapid who, with almost cruel courage, left the government, after he was fired, because he had quarrelled with Netanyahu over the latter's failure to back him in Lapid’s crowning achievement, a real life-and-death issue: zero value-added tax on new apartments.

Naftali Bennett — who even during the war quarrelled with the military and spoke out against cabinet activity that was devoid of any content — did not leave that government, which is now being revealed by its members to have been incompetent in matters of life and death.

It’s not that Netanyahu is exempt from criticism. The prime minister still constantly fosters the false image of the war’s success. He was responsible for the strange course it took — agreeing to a cease-fire, which preceded an intensification that in turn led to horrific assaults on innocent people in the name of the risks posed by those lethal tunnels. He’s preparing alternative guilty parties in case his version of events collapses.

Yuval Steinitz responded to Lapid’s words in an interview on Army Radio. He started cautiously, rolling responsibility onto the military. “It’s not the cabinet’s role to suggest solutions — neither technological nor operational ones — our role is to ask questions, to obtain information The ones who deal with in-depth solutions and discussions are the operational branch of the IDF or the Shin Bet.”

Steinitz was only consolidating the line taken by Netanyahu in that briefing, in which he repeated that numerous directives were given to the army before the war in order to prepare for the tunnel threat. One can only wonder at the fact that Moshe Ya’alon, then defence minister and now a direct political rival of Netanyahu, was not saddled with this package.

Until today, not a single voice, including from the opposition, has been clearly heard questioning the point of these "operations' in Gaza, operations which periodically exact a bloody toll, cause unbearable pain and inflict irreparable harm on independents, small businesses and ordinary people who simply wish to live here. All that, just to return to the starting point.