My Word: Terror tunnels and mudslinging

While no one in Israel wants the situation to escalate, most people realize that you can’t just ignore the subterranean version of a ticking time bomb.

November 3, 2017 00:12
Hamas tunnels

Hamas terror operatives in Gaza tunnel. (photo credit: REUTERS)

I let out a sigh on Tuesday morning. It wasn’t a sigh of relief. It was one of those sighs that replace words when it’s hard to find the right way to describe an emotional state.

I’d gone to sleep the previous night worrying that either Hamas or Islamic Jihad would carry out an immediate retaliation attack for the loss of at least seven terrorists, including two senior Islamic Jihad members, when Israel blew up an attack tunnel that crossed from the Gaza Strip to a point perilously close to communities on the Israeli side of the de facto border.

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Following the attack, friends living close to Gaza had noted that they were preparing for a rough night. Not that any of us were sorry that the terrorists had been killed.

Local residents would spend far more sleepless nights if they thought that Israel wasn’t taking measures to detect and knock out the tunnels.

The dangers posed by these underground passageways are often underestimated.

They do not present an existential threat to Israel, but terrorists could use them to kill and maim civilians or abduct soldiers to hold as hostages.

While no one in Israel wants the situation to escalate, most people realize that you can’t just ignore the subterranean version of a ticking time bomb. Terrorist organizations do not invest so much money and effort into constructing these tunnels for fun. They are serious about using them.

Deadly serious.

Outsiders tend to belittle low-tech terrorist attacks such as car rammings and “lonewolf” stabbings – until they are no longer something that take place on the outside, in Israel, and hit closer to home. But, as New Yorkers received a tragic reminder this week, global jihad is exactly that – global.

During Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014, many terror tunnels in Gaza were exposed. Among the smartest use of memes to explain the conflict at the time were two images: One showed a young girl’s pink, white and flowery bedroom; soft toys on the bed – and a big hole in the floor. On the wall was a painted slogan: “MONSTERS DO EXIST.” The other meme depicted a masked jihadist, Kalashnikov in hand, emerging from a manhole in New York with the slogan: “Just try to imagine terror tunnels under your streets. How would you react?” The deaths of the Islamic Jihad terrorists in the tunnel incident this week – and take a second to absorb the meaning of the name Islamic Jihad – were unfortunate only in that they served to quickly override the earlier discovery of a terror tunnel underneath an UNRWA-run school in Gaza. And what do you think the kids are learning in UN-affiliated schools where terror tunnels run beneath their feet? UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness issued a statement last Saturday saying “the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees discovered the existence of what appeared to be a tunnel underneath one of its schools in Gaza. In accordance with its protocol, the Agency has taken the necessary measures immediately to render the school safe and has sealed the cavity underneath its premises.

The school resumed its operations on the 25th of October.”

I didn’t sigh when I read it; I spluttered.

If the UN can’t recognize a tunnel when it finds one, how is it meant to recognize a terrorist? Do the rules of political correctness extend so far that UNRWA can’t come straight out and call a tunnel a tunnel, rather than something that “appeared to be” one? Isn’t it clear what a terror tunnel is before it gets to the stage of masked, armed men jumping out of the opening? It’s not like UNRWA officials haven’t seen a tunnel before: In June, the organization said it had found “part of a tunnel that passes under two adjacent agency schools in the Maghazi camp in the Gaza Strip.”

“The presence of a tunnel underneath an UNRWA installation, which enjoys inviolability under international law, is unacceptable.

It places children and agency staff at risk,” Gunness said in the statement last weekend.

As usual, Gunness did not state what group or groups were literally undermining the UN facilities. Perhaps he is too scared to say it out loud. The fact is Hamas, Islamic Jihad, ISIS and other Islamist terrorist organizations do not care that they are risking Palestinian children’s lives. It’s a win-win situation for them. They can use the children as human shields, and if the children are harmed, despite all Israel’s efforts to avoid the loss of innocent lives, it becomes an invaluable propaganda victory.

The tunnels from Gaza into Israeli communities are part of the terror network.

As I have noted before, had the millions and millions of dollars of international aid been spent on building Gaza up since Israel unilaterally pulled out in 2005 instead of on missiles and warrens of terror tunnels – aimed at destroying Israel – the Palestinians in Gaza, and indeed the whole region, would have benefited.

The public spat this week between Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman over the destruction of the latest tunnel did not make me feel safer. Political infighting does not make the ground firmer. Obviously trying to prevent the incident from escalating (and Israel’s enemies often attack without bothering to find a pretext), IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Ronen Manelis on October 30 made it clear, “There was no intention to harm any senior officials. The action was in our territory and the people died in their territory.” Manelis also noted that the deaths were the result of the tunnel collapse, not the blast itself.

“We must not apologize for our success in eliminating terrorists,” tweeted Bennett, who has a long-standing feud with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu concerning the response to the tunnel threat in the 2014 operation in Gaza.

“A briefing from the IDF spokesman cannot be an excuse to bluntly attack the IDF and its commanders,” Liberman replied on Facebook. (How did ministers fight before the age of social media?) Politicians and members of the public should not lose sight of who the real enemy is, and it isn’t someone sitting around the cabinet table in Jerusalem.

Just how complicated the situation is can be seen in an incident last Friday when a top Hamas security official, Tawfik Abu Na’im, was lightly injured by an explosive device apparently planted under his car. As the Gatestone Institute’s Bassam Tawil, among others, noted, several senior Hamas figures swiftly blamed Israel for the attack, “claiming that by targeting its ‘general,’ Israel is seeking to sabotage the recent ‘reconciliation’ agreement between Hamas and President Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority.” Tawil pointed out that it is more likely Abu Na’im, a founder of Hamas’s military wing Izzadin Kassam, was targeted by ISIS, which is currently Hamas’s most dangerous rival in Gaza.

In this respect, it was interesting (and depressing) to note the meeting on Tuesday between Hamas’s deputy political chief Saleh al-Arouri and Hezbollah head Hassan Nasrallah in Beirut. While the terror tunnels in Gaza are now an open secret, the Israeli defense establishment must be equally alert to a similar threat from Hezbollah in Lebanon, under the noses of the UN forces, and from PA-controlled areas of the West Bank.

Digging tunnels is a dirty business. Even hidden from the public eye, there’s no such thing as clean terrorism.

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