Israel’s Leaders Were Either Soft on Hamas’ Tunnels or Ignorant of Them

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IDF troops near an uncovered tunnel inside the Gaza Strip, July 19, 2014.Credit: IDF Spokesperson's Unit

As the operation in Gaza continues, the army is uncovering more and more Hamas tunnels, whose destruction has become a main objective of Operation Protective Edge. While Israeli forces are trying to locate them, Hamas sees them as valuable assets and is battling fiercely to preserve them. Hamas cells are trying to slip into Israel through these tunnels and attack army patrols and civilians. The group has chalked up a few successes that have extracted a bloody price from the Israel Defense Forces.

The tunnel threat is a nightmare come true, one that is understandably keeping a lot of Israelis near Gaza awake at night. One must therefore ask how a phenomenon that’s being presented as a significant strategic threat wasn’t addressed properly earlier, as was the problem of rockets and missiles.

Israel’s political and military leaders owe the people an explanation on why, despite expert opinions on the tunnel problem in recent years, they were more complacent about this threat than other threats. They must address why Israel didn’t allocate enough scientific, operational and financial resources to craft a solution.

This responsibility is underscored by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s announcement last week that he was willing to accept a cease-fire with Hamas. To those who opposed escalating the operation by launching a ground offensive, this seemed like a wise and measured policy. But if Netanyahu knew that the tunnels posed such a strategic threat, why was he pushing for "quiet in return for quiet"?

On the other hand, if Israel didn’t know about the extent of the tunnel danger until the ground operation began, this is an intelligence failure that must be investigated. The people are entitled to ask whether the casualties resulting from this failure could have been prevented.

Netanyahu has been prime minister since just after Operation Cast Lead ended in 2009. During this period, which included 2012’s Operation Pillar of Defense, the defense ministers were Ehud Barak and Moshe Ya’alon, who was IDF chief of staff when the tunnel phenomenon was first uncovered in 2004 and 2005. The three of them, mainly Netanyahu, must give an accounting for their omissions on this front over the years.

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