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The light at the end of the tunnel
By NACHMAN SHAI
07/24/2014
Israel is acting correctly by speaking moderately and acting forcefully. In this fashion, we will get the most out of Operation Protective Edge.
 
We cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel.

It’s too soon.

The main goal of this war that began when a terrorist emerged from a tunnel, is to locate and destroy as many tunnels as possible.

The IDF is continuously searching for the entrances and exits, while Hamas terrorists exploit the network of tunnels to infiltrate Israel and carry out as many attacks as they can before Israel destroys them.

There’s no longer any doubt: The military operation has turned into a full-fledged war at the last minute. If it hadn’t, tomorrow we would have found terrorists in our backyards in Kibbutz Nirim or Kibbutz Kerem Shalom as they tried to carry out one of the biggest terrorist attacks in the state’s history.

According to intelligence our authorities have gathered, Hamas was planning to kidnap civilians and soldiers and transfer them to Gaza.

Israel has been surprised tactically and strategically by the sheer number of tunnels we’ve discovered over the last few days. As with every war we’ve experienced, we knew everything and yet we knew nothing.

I don’t blame anyone for this lack of information, and the proper clarifications will be made in time. But it’s worth remembering that every modern guerrilla movement has used tunnels to fight its enemies, including the Chinese, Vietnamese, Hezbollah and Hamas movements.

Nonetheless, the magnitude and scope of the tunnels discovered this week were much greater than expected, a finding that only reinforces the justice of the IDF’s actions on the ground.

In this respect, Operation Protective Edge is quite similar to 2002’s Operation Defensive Shield in the West Bank. Then, the series of suicide bombings carried out during the second intifada caught Israel by surprise, and the country had a hard time coping with them. The final straw before Operation Defensive Shield was the Passover Eve suicide bombing at the Park Hotel in Netanya that killed 30 civilians and wounded 140 others.

After this catastrophe, Israel pulled out all the stops, and the IDF took back control of Judea and Samaria and stopped the terrorism.

The tunnels are the current equivalent of suicide bombings.

Both of them are intended to harm as many civilians as possible.

Operation Protective Edge is the new version of Operation Defensive Shield, and its goal is to remove the threat of terrorists using tunnels now and in the future. The real question is: Will the result be similar? In other words, will IDF be satisfied with a short, focused incursion, or will it expand its operations as much as necessary.

I believe that the prime minister and defense minister are intent on not repeating shortcomings of Operation Defensive Shield in Gaza.

The circumstances are completely different, and there are only a few similarities – but you never know. Past operations, and of course past wars, taught us that it’s very easy for an army to move beyond its original purpose to new and unexpected objectives.

We are in the middle of a test; the barometer is set by the number of wounded and killed, which influences the length of a mission. The higher the number of injured, on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides, the shorter the operation.

In Lebanon in the 1990s, Israel stopped its military activity twice as a result of the incident at Kafr Kana. Twice the IDF accidentally hit the civilian population and was forced to pull back. Shejaia in 2014 might turn into the new Kafr Kana in which a large concentration of innocent bystanders was killed, followed by tremendous international media exposure. Israel may try to run away from these precedents, but it cannot escape them so easily.

On the 14th day of fighting (Monday), Israeli forces were attacked again and again.

Looking back, no one believed that more than 1,000 rockets would be fired into Israel and reach a distance of up to 140 km. If we hadn’t had the Iron Dome, which can shoot down rockets throughout the country, Israel would have suffered dozens upon dozens of killed and injured civilians.

This military operation has been imposed upon us and is dragging us into a mutual bloodletting. The Iron Dome has saved the lives of many innocent Israeli and Palestinian civilians. It has reduced the number of injured and allowed the IDF to act with caution and moderation.

The IDF has two major challenges to deal with, which require intense military action: the tunnels and the rockets. The Israeli public, and of course the security cabinet, are involved in the national debate about whether the terrorist threat can be completely neutralized, or are we just buying time. Our hearts tell us that we should make an intense effort now to prevent these types of threats from being used in the future, but our heads and our experience tell us this is unattainable.

I can understand why the prime minister and the defense minister are acting with discretion.

They know the IDF can perform any task set for it – this is certainly a source of strrength – and yet they have remained within the bounds of realistic options. We must all learn this important lesson: we must curb our expectations so they match reality. Israel is acting correctly by speaking moderately and acting forcefully. In this fashion, we will get the most out of Operation Protective Edge.

The author, a Labor MK and a former Israeli spokesman at the UN, serves as chairman of the Knesset Lobby for US-Israel Relations, and is a member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

Translated by Hannah Hochner.
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