Mashaal: Hamas tunnels were defensive in nature, Israel imposed war on Gaza

In a wide-ranging interview with Vanity Fair magazine, the Hamas leader said Mohammed Deif was still alive.

Hamas political bureau chief Khaled Mashaal. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Hamas political bureau chief Khaled Mashaal.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In a wide-ranging interview with Vanity Fair magazine, Hamas’s political bureau chief Khaled Mashaal denied Israeli claims that the network of underground tunnels built by the Islamist organization ruling the Gaza Strip were designed to launch attacks against civilian towns near the Israel-Gaza border.
According to the American publication, Mashaal accused the Israeli government of using the tunnels as a pretext to launch a ground incursion into Gaza.
“Please note when we used these tunnels,” Mashaal told Vanity Fair. “We used them when Israel waged war against us. So the tunnels may have been outwardly called offensive tunnels, but in actual fact, they are defensive ones. If those were offensive tunnels, Hamas would have used them before the war. But, when Israel carried out its aggression against us, we used the tunnels to infiltrate behind the back lines of the Israeli army, which is waging war on Gaza.”
The Hamas leader, who is based in Qatar, also rejected claims that the Islamist group planned the 50-day war this past summer in Gaza, which happened shortly after the kidnapping and murder of three Jewish yeshiva students in the West Bank.
“[W]e did not launch a war based on some calculations, then discovered that we incurred losses,” Mashaal said. “The war was imposed on us and we simply defended ourselves . . . we are saddened by the loss of lives, but who should bear responsibility? It’s the Israelis: politicians, military, and security leaders. As for us, we stood our ground in this war. We thwarted Netanyahu’s plot [to score political points by launching a war].”
Mashaal also said that while the Hamas leadership did not give explicit instructions to kidnap the three teenagers, it did not dissuade it either.
“When this operation took place last June, I then said in remarks to the media that we had no information. I could neither confirm nor deny,” he said. “Later on, and as the Israeli investigations have shown, it turned out that a Hamas field group in the West Bank had killed those three settlers. So, this was indeed an operation executed by a Hamas group. We now have specific information. [The] question now is: Was this operation legitimate or not? This was a legitimate operation. Why? I told you. It is the right of the lawful owners of the land in the West Bank, whether they are from Hamas, or from some other group, to engage in resistance against the occupiers, whether they are the Israeli military or settlers. It’s as simple as that.”
“In the leadership of Hamas, we never give orders to execute this operation—or stop that one,” Mashaal said. “We present general policies: that there is an occupation and part of our strategy is to resist this occupation. Somebody might say, ‘But don’t you have any control over those working in the field?’ Of course we do. When we agree on a ceasefire, for example, this becomes a decision from the leadership of the movement, and those working on the ground must abide by it. But the leadership does not interfere with the execution, or with ordering this operation to be carried out, and that one not to.”
When asked about the fate of Hamas military wing commander Mohammed Deif, Mashaal insisted that he is alive, even though evidence of his having survived an Israeli attempt on his life has yet to emerge.
“Mohammed Deif is alive,” he said. “Israelis failed to kill him. But they succeeded in killing his wife and his two children. Mohammed Deif is still alive, and will continue to fight the Israeli aggression and occupation. Inshallah.”