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Monday, July 21, 2014

To Hamas, the tunnels matter more than the rockets

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, former US Attorney General Michael Mukasey explains that what really matters to Hamas in this war is not its rocket supply, but its tunnel network, which could God Forbid allow it to kidnap Israelis.
According to Yigal Carmon, who heads the Middle East Media Research Institute, his organization's monitoring of published material and discussions with Israeli officials indicate that Hamas's tunnels—and not the well-publicized episode of kidnapping and murder involving young Israelis and a Palestinian teenager—were the spark for the conflict.

Consider: On July 5 Israeli planes damaged a tunnel dug by Hamas that ran for several kilometers from inside the Gaza Strip. The tunnel emerged near an Israeli kibbutz named Kerem Shalom —vineyard of peace.

That Israeli strike presented Hamas with a dilemma, because the tunnel was one of scores that the group had dug at great cost. Were the Israelis specifically aware of the tunnel or had their strike been a random guess? Several members of the Hamas military leadership came to inspect the damage the following day, July 6. A later official Israeli report said that the Hamas inspectors were killed in a "work accident." But what if the Israelis had been waiting for the follow-up and struck again?

Hamas now saw its strategic plan unraveling. The tunnel network gave it the ability to launch a coordinated attack within Israel like the 2008 Islamist rampage in Mumbai that killed 164 people. Recall that in 2011 Israel released more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, more than 200 of whom were under a life sentence for planning and perpetrating terror attacks. They were exchanged for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, who had been taken hostage in a cross-border raid by Hamas. Imagine the leverage that Hamas could have achieved by sneaking fighters through the tunnels and taking hostages throughout Israel; the terrorists intercepted Saturday night were carrying tranquilizers and handcuffs.

If the Israeli strike on the tunnel near the Kerem Shalom kibbutz presaged a drive to destroy the entire network—the jewel of Hamas's war-planning—the terrorist group must have been thrown into a panic. Because by this summer Hamas was already in desperate political straits.

For years Hamas was receiving weapons and funding from Shiite Iran and Syria, under the banner of militant resistance to Israel. But when Mohammed Morsi became president of Egypt in June 2012, Hamas abandoned its relationship with Iran and Syria and took up instead with Mr. Morsi and the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas also took up with Turkey and Qatar, also Sunni states, describing them at one point as the saviors of Hamas. Former benefactors Syria and Iran then called Hamas traitorous for abandoning the resistance-to-Israel camp.

The Hamas romance with Mr. Morsi was especially galling to Shiite-led Iran and Syria. The Shiites are only 10% of the world's Muslims, and neither Iran nor Syria welcomed the loss of a patron to Sunni Egypt. The coup that removed Mr. Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood regime in June 2013 brought a chill in Egypt's relationship with Hamas that has kept Egypt's border with Gaza closed, denying Hamas that route of supply.

But Iran and Syria did not rush to embrace their former beneficiary. When Hamas tried to re-ingratiate itself with Iran this May, its political bureau head, Khaled Mash'al, was denied an audience in Tehran and could only meet a minor diplomat in Qatar. On June 26 the Iranian website Tabnak posted an article titled, "Mr. Mash'al, Answer the Following Questions Before Asking for Help." The questions included: "How can Iran go back to trusting an organization that turned its back on the Syrian regime after it sat in Damascus for years and received all kinds of assistance?" and "How can we trust an organization that enjoyed Iranian support for years and then described Turkey and Qatar as its saviors?"

So on July 6, Hamas stood politically isolated and strategically vulnerable. It had lost the financial support of Egypt and could not get renewed support from Iran in the measure it needed. To some in the organization it appeared that Hamas had only one card to play—and on July 7 it played that card with rockets. As to the tunnels, last Thursday Israeli forces intercepted 13 armed terrorists as they emerged from a tunnel near Kibbutz Sufa in Israel.
I suppose we should thank Hamas for refusing the 'cease fire' last week that would have kept us from even starting on the tunnels.

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