This week Israel made public its discovery of an underground terror tunnel leading from Gaza into Israel, before blowing it up on Tuesday.
Built by Hamas, the tunnel lead from Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, into Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha in the western Negev. Officials believe that the tunnel, complete with an electricity supply and phone line, took over a year to construct.
For years the building of underground terror tunnels for the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers and smuggling of explosives has been an archetypal Hamas tactic. The most ‘successful’ of these resulted in the kidnapping of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit in 2006.
But this most recent discovery has received vast prominence in the media for two reasons. First, the tunnel was lined with cement transferred from Israel. This prompted Israel to put an immediate halt on construction supplies to Gaza. According to the Times of Israel Hamas used over 500 tons of cement intended for Palestinian civilian building in the construction of the tunnel.
Secondly, it was the best-designed tunnel the IDF has found to date and its cost was millions of dollars. The 1.7 km wide tunnel was built 20m underground and high enough for people to walk through standing upright.
Amos Harel of Haaretz wrote about the significance of this tunnel in the context of Hamas’ broader ‘tunnel building project.’
He writes; “In fact, the IDF uncovered what it calls a “shelf attack,” a long-range effort by Hamas intended to be used at the right time for the organization – for an attack or an abduction that would give Hamas the means to pressure Israel.”
(The same link can be used to see footage from inside the tunnel).
Israel’s past answer to Hamas’ construction of underground tunnels was to prevent the transfer of building materials into Gaza entirely. Yet in response to vast international pressure Israel was forced to lift the ban.
In an opinion piece for Y Net veteran journalist Ron Ben-Yishai explains that “the material was supposed to be used in various welfare projects benefiting the community. Israel initially demanded that the aid groups make certain that the material is used solely for these projects, but lately, in order to ease some of the economic pressure on Gaza, Israel decided to allow the transfer of construction materials for use by private builders in Gaza.”
He continues; “The purpose of these tunnels is not only to infiltrate Israeli territory in order to kidnap, but also to plant bombs, gather intelligence and relocate members to the West Bank.”
This sort of corruption by the Palestinian Authority was the focus of the international press this week with a report by the European Court of Auditors, the Luxembourg-based watchdog, stating that billions of dollars of Palestinian aid had been lost to corruption.
According to The Algemeiner “roughly €2.3 Billion ($3.1 Billion) made its way from Europe to the Palestinian territories between 2008 and 2012, but much of it is unaccounted for.” In essence, this international aid intended for Palestinian civilians was either misspent or squandered by the leadership that claims to work in the best interest of its people.
It was in line with this sentiment that Gaza Division commander, Gen. Michael Edelstein, described the construction of the tunnel as a “gross violation of the ceasefire, against Israel and against the Palestinians.”
As always when a potentially lethal terror mechanism is discovered, talk of Israeli-Palestinian relations and the current status of peace negotiations is revived.
This week the Knesset winter session commenced and the Prime Minister opened the cabinet meeting with the agenda; “we have seen an increase in terrorist activity over the last few weeks…”
Similarly, the recent wave of terrorist activities prompted Israel’s minister of intelligence and international affairs, Yuval Steinitz to publish an opinion piece in the New York Times stating that “progress toward a peace agreement requires that both Palestinians and Israelis foster an environment conducive to productive dialogue. Israel’s anguished decision on July 28 to release over 100 convicted terrorists, as well as to help the Palestinian economy, were a courageous attempt to build trust and improve the atmosphere surrounding the negotiations, and I supported it.”
He continued: “Palestinian leaders must now reciprocate by immediately and fully halting their encouragement and sponsorship of hatred.”
Some people have written that this sort of rhetoric from the Israeli leadership is over the top and the blockade on building supplies to Gaza unjustified. But the fact of the matter is that had Israel not discovered this terror trap, the ramifications for Israeli life could have and would have been harrowing. Indeed, this is something Israel and its leadership cannot afford to gamble with – period.
Media and Advocacy Director
Zionist Federation of Australia