Sunday 3 August 2014

Tunnels of Terror

Operation Protective Edge is already into its 27th day of operations, and the ground operation has continued for more than two weeks.  Israel has lost more than 60 if its soldiers in battles with Hamas, and three civilians as a result of rocket fire into towns and cities.  The Palestinians are reporting that more than 1,500 of their citizens have been killed, including many Hamas operatives and terrorists.

In an operation that has held its fair share of surprises and some really positive reactions from Israeli society, there have been two stand-out features for which the operation is likely to be remembered.  The first feature is the unbelievable protection that has been offered to the Israeli home front by the Iron Dome anti-missile system.  Not only have hundreds, perhaps thousands, of lives been saved by this miraculous Israeli invention, it has offered the Israeli military commanders and political leaders the luxury of time to make rational and clear-headed decisions in the knowledge that much of Israel continues to go about its daily life in the meantime.  Let us not be lulled into a false understanding that Israeli life has continued without any interruption over the course of this operation.  Despite this fact, Iron Dome has allowed much of the economy to continue to function, and has allowed people to live their daily lives in relative safety.  This has been a true blessing, and the public recognition that has been in evidence for the Iron Dome units and the work that they are doing, is fully justified.

The second stand-out feature of this operation is the tunnels that have been discovered running beneath the Gazan towns, cities and fields, stretching into Israeli territory beneath the border fence.  While we have heard about Gazan tunnels extensively before today, the references to the tunnels have mostly been in connection with smuggling tunnels under the Egyptian border.  These tunnels, we are told, are the lifeline to the Gaza terror organisation and have allowed Hamas to be armed to the teeth in anticipation of an operation like this one.  We also understand that these tunnels have been the source for the incessant rocket fire that Israeli civilians have had to tolerate over many years.  The tunnels from Egypty have provided large quantities of arms and ammunition to Gaza.  Operation Protective Edge has revealed a new type of tunnel.  This is a tunnel that reaches from Gaza into the back gardens of kindergartens, and this is a tunnel that allows those who are intent on attacking civilians to reach their target undetected and in the most frightening and direct way.  Citizens of the south of Israel, hardened after many years of constant rocket fire from Gaza, now have a new fear to confront in the form of tunnel shafts that have been discovered a few hundred metres from the kibbutz where they live.  The reason for this fear is obvious.  These are tunnels that have no possible positive angle to them, and they are designed solely for the purpose attacking innocent men, women and children who simply wish to go about their daily lives.  These are tunnels of terror.

When Israel unilaterally disengaged from Gaza in 2006, there was some hope that this would signal the moment that the Palestinians living there could take control of their lives in the way that they had been claiming to desire for so long.  The terror campaign that had been waged until that moment was justified by the desire for Gaza to be independent of Israeli control and influence, to allow the Gazan population to be masters of their own destiny.  The decision made by then-prime minister Arik Sharon to give the residents of Gaza the opportunity to fulfil this desire, came at a very high price to citizens of Israel, and came against warnings by many of those who believed that Israel was taking the wrong action.  Although I personally still believe that the action of withdrawing from Gaza was the correct one, it is clear that those who warned that this would simply begin a new war in which the citizens of Gaza would advance to lay claim to the rest of the State of Israel, were correct.  The claims that Palestinians wished only for an independent Gaza were proven to be wholly incorrect.  The moment that they had full control over Gaza, they turned their attention to their next target to try to gain control of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and the rest of Israel.

The terror tunnels represent a microcosm of the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.  While Israel is spending huge resources on developing systems that will defend its citizens,  that will allow them to go about their daily chores even when missiles are raining down, Hamas is spending its resources on building infrastructure for the purpose of attacking and terrorising Israeli civilians.  While Israelis are spending their time, effort and money building a country and an economy that will give a good future for their children and grandchildren, Hamas is forcing its children to protect missiles that are to be used for attacking Israel and Israelis.  It seems inconceivable that a national government is abusing its population in order to pursue a policy of hatred and negativity.  The attacks that it carries out on Israelis will not advance its people in any way.  Gaza may well be a small and densely populated area, but it still represents a piece of land which the Palestinians can use to prove to the world that they have the intention and the ability to build a positive future for its people.  Israel had a similar challenge in 1948 when the UN agreed the partition plan for Palestine.  The land granted to the Jews was small and almost indefensible.  Despite this fact, the Jews have turned Israel into one of the most dynamic countries in the world, and have succeeded in developing an economy and an army that is admired by many around the world.  It provides a vision and a future for the next generation of Israelis, a vision and future that Palestinians do not have.

Hamas claims that the reason for carrying out terror attacks, is because of the "occupation".  They claim that Israel's actions are the reason for their aggression against Israel, and for the lack of hope and future for its younger generation.  Israelis will disagree with this.  There is nothing that Israelis want more, than to live in peace and security with its neighbours.  They would like to give respect to those who live around us, in return for respect being given in return.  Israel took the first step in granting the Palestinians their desire to rule over Gaza.  In return, they have fired thousands of missiles onto Israeli populated areas, and have dug tunnels to be used for the purpose of attacking innocent civilians.  Despite this situation, Israel continues to invest in building a future for its next generation.  Hamas uses its future generations to promote its murderous attacks, and to defend its terror infrastructure.  Turning children into a "shahid' (hero) that is so revered by Hamas and its Muslim extremist colleagues, is contrary to any concept of building a future.

The tunnels are being destroyed, whereafter Israeli troops will probably depart the scene to give Hamas another chance to show its humanity, and build a future for its children.  We live under no illusions that they will seize this opportunity, where they have failed to do so before.  Instead of building tunnels, it is our hope that Hamas will build homes, hospitals, schools and promote economic growth to create a vision and future for its children.  And we hope that this will promote a love and respect for their children, that will exceed the hate that they feel for Israel.

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