No Light at the End of This Tunnel

It’s impossible for the IDF to leave Gaza until we’ve blown up all the remaining attack tunnels, something the left and right should both agree upon.

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An Israeli army officer gives journalists a tour, Friday, July 25, 2014, of a tunnel allegedly used by Palestinian militants for cross-border attacks, at the Israel-Gaza Border. Credit: AP

What would have happened had Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered a ground operation in the Gaza Strip a year ago – a surprise operation to destroy the tunnels?

In truth, it’s hard to understand how he failed to do so, when he knew these attack tunnels were being built ceaselessly, day and night, and that residents of communities near Gaza were exposed to deadly danger.

The answer is that Netanyahu knew something else very well. Had he launched an operation a year ago, the public would have slaughtered him. It would have jumped on him, kicked him, trampled him and called him an incorrigible warmonger.

Because what was going wrong at the time? There was quiet, there were tourists, the south was booming. And then suddenly he decides to launch a war against the tunnels for no reason whatsoever and sets the entire south ablaze, causing rockets to be fired on Israel, undermining tourism and, worst of all, causing the death of soldiers in an unnecessary operation.

And because the prime minister clearly understood that he would have become public enemy number one – to the point that his job would have been in danger – he apparently decided to sit quietly and do nothing.

Only on Thursday July 17, when 13 Palestinian terrorists were discovered emerging from a tunnel before dawn at a distance of just 150 meters from Kibbutz Sufa – only then, and not one moment before, did he order the troops into Gaza.

But the story gets even worse, because the night before, Netanyahu approved a five-hour cease-fire with Hamas that was supposed to take effect at 10 A.M. on July 17.

In effect, that would have made it necessary to end the operation even before any steps had been taken to eliminate the tunnels.

In other words, had Hamas not sent those 13 terrorists but instead agreed to the cease-fire and upheld it, the Israel Defense Forces wouldn’t have gone in and 32 tunnels would have continued quietly being dug under the command of Hamas’ military wing chief, Mohammed Deif, until they had reached the heart of communities near the Gaza border and gone straight into the kibbutzim’s dining rooms.

Then, one black morning, with no prior warning, groups of terrorists would have emerged from them. And I don’t want to go on and describe what would have happened next.

Therefore, failing to deal with the tunnels was the conduct of someone who is not a leader.

It’s the conduct of someone who thinks only of preserving his job. It’s the conduct of someone who makes his decisions on the basis of a weighted average of public opinion. But for that, it would suffice to put a sophisticated computer in the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem – you don’t need a human being who thinks, who knows that, as premier, it’s his responsibility to do the right thing, even if it’s hard, unpopular and endangers his career.

No less depressing was the parade of ministers through the television studios, where they prattled for nine days straight about one thing only: the missile threat. Not a word about the tunnels. And then suddenly, on the 10th day, July 17, the CD was changed and they switched to babbling solely about the tunnels. Not a word about the missiles.

It was so predictable. And so depressing. Not a single original, provocative or different idea.

They knew about the danger of the tunnels. Netanyahu knew. The ministers knew. After all, the army had entered Gaza a few times in recent years to deal with some of those tunnels. And since 2004, it has been trying to develop technological means of locating and destroying them, though without success. So how could Netanyahu have sought to end the operation on July 17 when these spacious, well-equipped tunnels remained in place, and some of them already extended under the border?

Therefore, even though I’d like to see the war end already in order to save bloodshed on both sides, it’s impossible to leave Gaza until we’ve blown up all the remaining attack tunnels, until not a single one is left.

That is a justified and appropriate goal for left and right alike. Our aspirations for a diplomatic solution and the achievement of peace don’t obviate the need for taking steps to prevent murder. “Left” isn’t a synonym for suicide.

Entrance to tunnel connecting between Israel and Gaza, October 2013.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

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