My Word: Battling tunnel vision

Let it not be forgotten that the true villain behind the war is Hamas and its backers, not Netanyahu and his bickering cabinet.

A gunman from the Izz ad-Din al- Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, photographed inside an underground tunnel in Gaza, in 2014. (photo credit: REUTERS)
A gunman from the Izz ad-Din al- Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, photographed inside an underground tunnel in Gaza, in 2014.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Israel is a country famously full of generals and politicians.
With compulsory military service and a lot at stake, just about everybody believes they are entitled to an opinion – or two – and is sure that they have enough experience to justify weighing in on heavy matters of war and peace.
To a certain extent, it’s understandable. Wars in Israel are personal. Soldiers know exactly whom they are protecting – their families. The families, for their part, spend sleepless nights over their “children” on the front lines.
Very few Israelis were unaffected by Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014, when more than 4,000 rockets were launched on the country and 67 soldiers and six civilians lost their lives. The bodies of Lt. Hadar Goldin and St.-Sgt. Oron Shaul, were abducted via terror tunnels and are still being held by Hamas. There is a certain irony that the Palestinians denounce “the occupation” at every opportunity and yet the entire occupying force in Gaza comes down to these two dead IDF soldiers.
Goldin’s family spoke out painfully and forcefully in interviews this week following the publication of State Comptroller Joseph Shapira’s report on the 50-day war.
The report, focusing on the tunnel threat, was a long time in coming. All those who came under particular condemnation – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, then-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, and IDF chief of staff at the time Benny Gantz – had ample opportunity to think of how to handle and rebut the criticism.
Incidentally, the leaks from the report well ahead of its publication, similar to the leaks from the cabinet, are cause for concern in their own right.
Netanyahu obviously decided months ago that in this type of political battle, attack is the best method of defense.
In September, I was part of a delegation from The Jerusalem Post and its Hebrew-language sister publication Maariv invited to the Prime Minister’s Office. In a short period, he met with similar groups of journalists from nearly all the country’s major media.
I was not surprised by anything I heard during the meeting, which concentrated almost entirely on a detailed examination of when Netanyahu had warned of the tunnel threat. I was taken aback, however, by how long the prime minister spent on the issue.
After three hours I began checking my watch more frequently and mentally reassessing what was left on my daily to-do list. Nearly four hours after the prime minister began the briefing, I apologized and left the room. I still find it incredible that I had more to do than the prime minister that afternoon. More likely, our priorities were different: I wasn’t preparing to fight for political survival when the state comptroller finally released his findings.
Netanyahu knew that his rivals, chief among them Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett and Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid, would not miss another opportunity to claim, as Shapira determined, that the cabinet had not been adequately briefed on the threats in real time.
One of my major concerns remains that during all those hours in which we sat in the cabinet room, we did not hear anything substantial about fighting the next war.
During Operation Protective Edge I noted fears that Hezbollah was likely preparing similar terror tunnels in the North, under the noses – or under the feet – of the UN forces stationed in southern Lebanon. Watching footage of ISIS tunnels being uncovered by Iraqi forces in homes in Mosul this week, not for the first time I wondered what was also going on in Hamas strongholds in the West Bank.
Those who believe that territory has no meaning in the age of rockets have buried their heads in the sand. If they can’t open their eyes, they should at least be alert for the suspicious sound of digging.
The tunnel threat has been known for a long time. Gilad Schalit was abducted via a terror tunnel in June 2006.
Egypt under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has taken massive action against the so-called smuggling tunnels between Gaza and Sinai, evidently realizing that any tunnel that could be used for the most literal form of underground market could just as easily be exploited to smuggle fighters and arms. Egypt, it should be noted, faced no real international condemnation for flooding and destroying the tunnels emanating from Gaza and removing thousands of people from their homes to create a buffer zone.
The international censure of Israel, on the other hand, is as constant as the rocket and mortar fire from Gaza.
Apparently Israelis are meant to suffer rockets and terror attacks in silence.
THE REPORT will be worse than useless if it is used only as a political weapon. It needs to help decision-makers, not hinder them. I worry about the way Netanyahu handled the war, and even more about how he’s handling the criticism.
Like the terror tunnels themselves, we know where the next round of hostilities is likely to start but not where it will end.
The IDF did not wait until the comptroller’s report to begin implementing its own changes. It has been preparing to stop the terrorists from entering the tunnels, or at least to prevent them leaving the tunnels alive.
There are also some positive points to ponder. The Iron Dome, while not foolproof, offered a new, almost miraculous, level of protection during Operation Protective Edge.
Today’s rocket defense systems are even more sophisticated.
Unlike the 2006 Second Lebanon War, the soldiers in 2014 were better prepared and so were the civilians.
Rachelle Fraenkel, the mother of Naftali – one of the three teens kidnapped and murdered in the chain of events that led to the war – has noted the way the period of unprecedented social unity at the time carried on into the rocket-racked days of Operation Protective Edge. With the entire country under threat, the solidarity increased.
The thousands of day trippers who went down South last month to see the anemones bloom – something of an Israeli spring ritual – prove that despite Hamas’s best efforts, it lost. Israel is not living in fear.
As Sderot Mayor Alon Davidi told the Post’s Eliyahu Kamisher this week, he welcomes the report and is looking forward to “building new residential neighborhoods, welcoming new residents, establishing playgrounds and recreational parks and continuing to invest in our education system.”
Let it not be forgotten that the true villain behind the war is Hamas and its backers, not Netanyahu and his bickering cabinet. The Hamas leadership is responsible for the bloodshed – on both sides of the border. The terrorists build attack tunnels. I prefer constructive criticism. The state comptroller found the political leadership guilty of tunnel vision. Now we need to be sure that they have seen the light. Infighting and taking digs at each other is no way to tackle the threats of war and terrorism.