Benjamin Netanyahu has said that the primary goal of the current ground incursion into Gaza is to destroy the terror tunnels that endanger Israel’s security.
Just a few weeks ago I was in one of those tunnels a mile or so from the Gaza border. The tunnels begin in Gaza and snake under the Gaza-Israel border to unknown locations within Israel. The tunnel I was in ended very close to an Israeli kindergarten in a kibbutz. The purpose of that tunnel was to allow Hamas terrorists to emerge from underground and kill and kidnap the 57 babies and children who attend the kindergarten every day.
Fortunately a Bedouin tracker discovered the tunnel and alerted the army. Had the tunnel not been discovered, there would have been mass casualties and kidnappings. The tunnel itself contained railroad tracks capable of quickly carrying a small vehicle back into Gaza with the kidnapped victims or the bodies of the murdered Israelis.
No country should have to tolerate this breach of its sovereignty and this danger to the lives of its civilians. Israel knows where some of these tunnels begin but they can’t attack them from the air because Hamas has deliberately placed their entrances in hospitals, schools, mosques and other civilian buildings. It requires boots on the ground to get to these tunnels and to shut them down. Nor does Israel have the technical capacity to determine the route of the tunnels and their exit points since they are more than 60 feet underground and not subject to detection from the air.
The event that immediately provoked this ground incursion was the discovery by Israel of yet another tunnel whose exit was near a civilian kibbutz. This discovery almost came too late to prevent a mass casualty disaster. The terrorists had already emerged from the tunnel, with grenade launchers, bazookas, machine guns and other weapons capable of mass murder. http://www.haaretz.com/news/video/1.605650 Several of the terrorists were killed while others apparently escaped back through the tunnel before the Israelis could disable it.
This attempted mass casualty attack was planned and implemented while Israel and Egypt were trying to arrange a cease fire. Israeli intelligence estimates that there are dozens of other terror tunnels that they still cannot find although they know where some of the entrance points in Gaza are located. It is these tunnels that are the primary object of Israel’s risky ground incursion.
There are other tunnels as well on the west side of Gaza, underneath its border with Egypt. These are the smuggling tunnels through which Hamas imports the rockets that it uses to terrorize Israeli civilians. It also uses these tunnels to enrich its leaders who take a percentage of the profits earned by the commerce that goes through these tunnels on a daily basis. These smuggling tunnels too pose a direct threat to Israel’s security and are a secondary object of Israel’s ground incursion.
The end result of Israel’s military operation should be two-fold: First, to stop the security threat currently posed by Hamas terrorism—rocket fire, kidnappings and terrorist incursions into Israel—by shutting down the tunnels and imposing a strict quarantine against the importation of rockets and against the exportation of terrorists through tunnels; and second, to restore the flow of innocent commerce into Gaza so that its citizens can live lives as normal as possible while they remain under the thumb of the violent theocracy and kleptocracy of Hamas.
The Israeli government did not want to send troops into Gaza. Its leaders well understand the risks to their own soldiers as well as to Palestinian civilians. But they also understand the risks to Israeli civilians of allowing these terrorist tunnels to continue to operate underneath its border. The decision to send in troops was a difficult one, made on the basis of a calculation of the risks of action versus the risks of inaction.
The day after I went into the tunnel underneath the Gaza-Israel border, I had a private dinner with Prime Minister Netanyahu. It was clear to me how reluctant Netanyahu was to send troops into Gaza. He had never before committed ground troops into an enemy war zone. As is well known, his own brother was killed defending Israel against terrorism. He knows the price of action as well as inaction. He is a reluctant warrior, but Hamas forced his hand by repeatedly turning down negotiated cease fires and continuing to fire rockets at Israeli cities and to send terrorists into Israeli kibbutzim.
I know of no country in the world that would tolerate such danger to its civilians without doing everything in their power to prevent it. As President Obama said when he visited Sderot in 2008, “If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I’m going to do everything in my power to stop that. And I would expect Israelis to do the same.” Israel is doing the same and the United States is supporting Israel in its self-defense actions.
Alan M. Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard, a practicing criminal and constitutional lawyer and the author, most recently, of “Taking the Stand: My Life in the Law.”