Israeli leaders cannot escape the idea that Palestinians must be controlled, all the time and in all areas of life. Indeed, if controlling the Palestinians is everything we want, then the separation wall and the ‘Iron Dome’ are excellent solutions. The longer this snowball rolls, however, any non-military option is ruled out more aggressively, and even relatively moderate military options become irrelevant.
By Idan Landau
It became official this summer: tunnels are the new centrifuges. For years, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been waving the Iranian threat in front of us, and one morning we woke up and… poof! – the threat vanished, at least from most of the prime minister’s speeches.
Then came the rockets – from Hezbollah and Hamas. The Israeli hasbara machine painted that capability in demonic dimensions, used to justify every crime and injustice against innocent civilians in Lebanon and Gaza. And yet, after each Israeli military operation Hezbollah and Hamas improved their ability to launch rockets.
But then the tunnels made an appearance, followed by their offspring: smuggling tunnels, terror tunnels, explosive tunnels, launching tunnels, and most recently – infiltration tunnels.
We need to raise some serious questions about the tunnels, just a moment before they become a holy cow no one can question.
My starting point is an extensive post I wrote two and a half years ago about the special elite combat engineering unit of the IDF, Yahalom, which described its deeds from the days of operation Cast Lead to today. A part of it was dedicated to the significant efforts that the IDF is investing, both technological and operational, in the training of this unit for “tunnel combat.” I emphasize the expression “tunnel combat,” not to be confused with “tunnel detection” and “tunnel destruction,” which are the focus of public attention these days. It’s not the same thing, though by the end we’ll see that the conclusions are not significantly different.
That is what I wrote then:
The notable examples from our days are the tunnels that the Chinese dug in Ranzhuang against the Japanese in the second Chinese-Japanese war, and the tunnels dug by the Viet Cong against the Americans in the Vietnam war. In both cases, the empires got into a frustrating war of attrition against an elusive enemy that knew the territory much better than they did, and caused them severe losses by using explosive booby-traps and punji stake pits. The Cu Chi district in Vietnam, where the Viet cong built an immense underground network to the level of an underground city, was attacked several times by the American army. In Operation Crimp (January 1966) 30 tons of explosives were dropped on Cu Chi, along with 8,000 soldiers; in Operation Cedar Falls (January 1967) 30,000 American soldiers attacked Cu Chi; in 1969 the district was carpet bombed again. Eventually, the Americans had to retreat, and the Viet Cong won the war.
The engineers and commanders of Yahalom obviously know all that. Certainly they think it’s going to be completely different for us. We have advanced technologies (first send a robot into the tunnel, only then go down!); we have a proper combat doctrine; modernistic explosives; and so on. I assume that in every generation, the empire confronted with tunnel combatants said to itself: it’s going to be different for us. We’re smarter, we’re more advanced.
And in every generation, the tunnel combatants told themselves: we have no choice. This is our land. Now we are under it, but at some point the enemy will give up and retreat. Then we can go back up.
What is the IDF looking for underneath southern Lebanon and Gaza? There are already thousands of tunnels, an organized infrastructure for transporting goods and ammunition. The tunnels are a fact; no military force in the world will erase them. Is the IDF planning massive carpet bombings on all the settled areas in Gaza? We should know such things in advance. At most, isolated parts of some tunnels can be collapsed, a drop in the sea. There’s no way of reaching all the ammunition that’s hidden there, and as long as the Israeli restrictions on transporting goods to Gaza continues, and especially the restrictions on exporting, the tunnels are an answer not only to military, but to genuine civil necessities as well. Life is stronger than everything.
Yes, the tunnels are used for military purposes. In Israel’s official propaganda lexicon, crazy accumulation of weapon is called “power building” when it’s on our side and “weapon smuggling” when it’s on their side. Isn’t it an armed conflict? What do they expect in the general staff, that the Palestinians would smuggle crossword puzzles and woolen pompons, while Israel arms itself to the teeth with more and more and more sophisticated weapons systems with unimaginable human and economic costs?
That’s how it is in armed conflict. The enemy accumulates ammunition, trains and plants ambushes. If we have a problem with it, we might start to consider non-violent ways of stopping the violence. As long as the conflict is violent, we can stop being shocked every day by the enemy’s diligent accumulation of weapons.
This is still true and relevant. The main function of the tunnels in Gaza is transportation of goods and weapons into the strip. The Israeli attempt to eradicate this phenomenon is doomed to failure for the reasons I indicated two-and-a-half years ago, and indeed, it becomes clear now how far Israel was from achieving this goal.
Now there’s also something new to address: the “infiltration tunnels,” or cross-fence tunnels, through which Hamas combatants infiltrated Israeli population in order to kill civilians. This option is sickening, naturally, and the majority opinion is that all should be done in order to detect and destroy these tunnels as soon as possible.
Before we dive into the details, it is worthwhile noting that the Israeli PR machine did not waste a moment — it actually turned the existence of the cross-fence tunnels into the primary and nearly only ground for the operation. From its first days, analysts were already defining the goal of the operation as “the destruction of the tunnels.” That’s how a consensus was being created in motion, and it’s also most effective at silencing possible objections. For what will we do when it turns out that the new goal is as impossible as in the previous attacks on Gaza?
Then again, we can always define a new destination and go on another operation, no doubt about it. For now, I would like to concentrate on the “destruction of the tunnels.”
The tunnels in Gaza
Israel has had a “problem” with the tunnels for… you won’t believe it, since 1990. Two and a half decades. As years go by, and especially since the onset of the siege, the tunnels play a primary role in Gaza’s economy and military growth. In their prime, there were about 1,200 tunnels in Gaza, most of them in the direction of the Sinai peninsula. In recent years the Egyptian authorities have declared war on the tunnels and destroyed most of them. Israel estimates that today there are dozens of tunnels in Gaza. It’s an entrenched array inspired by the underground network of Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. It’s as organized and supervised as any military project.
During the first part of this summer’s war, the concept of “strategic failure” received substantial attention: the fact that after years of alerts and warnings and examinations of alternatives, the Defense Ministry had yet to find a technological solution for early detection of tunnels. A line of geophysics experts line up for interviews, all very smart – some smart enough to hold the stocks that will jump miraculously with the granting of the franchise to the tunnel detection system – all pointing the finger at the “shuffling” of the Defense Ministry. The technological challenge is not at all simple; the ideas move from planting optic fibers underground, geological radar, gravitation measurements, microseismic monitoring, one suggests digging a 70-kilometer canal around the Strip and planting radar in it, another suggests digging a canal filled with sewage along the border.
In any case, the estimated cost is billions.
It is important to note that there doesn’t yet exist a geophysical system which is able to detect tunnels in Gaza, certainly not one which can be operational in the near future. This means that for at least a couple of years, the IDF will continue to rely on the existing system of intelligence and surveillance. As we saw during the latest opreation and as reported by Palestinian workers who took part at the mining of tunnels, this system doesn’t work. It’s very easy to disguise the work on tunnels, the entrance and exit holes, and the Palestinians have already become experts.
More crucially, even if the huge budget and technological efforts the Defense Ministry invested in its “Iron Dome Against Tunnels” soon pay off with a new efficient system, the tunnel problem will not end. And that is what nobody talks about. It’s taboo.
The pace of tunnel construction
According to the IDF, 32 attack tunnels were destroyed during Protective Edge. Once they were destroyed, the army said it had “achieved the goals” of the ground operation began its first retreat in early August.
Then what? The IDF will restore its stocks of ammunition, and the Hamas would restore its tunnels. That’s how it is between enemies: both sides spend every spare moment for military growth.
How long does it take to construct a weapon tunnel? According to this estimation (Hebrew), at a pace of 12 meters a day with five workers — three months. According to another (20 meters a day) – even less. Let us assume a short recovery period in Gaza before construction is renewed. A conservative estimation could assume the recovery of the tunnels within six months from the end of “Protective Edge.”
All of the tunnels, and perhaps more. Manpower is not lacking in the Strip. And materials? As “Gisha” point out time and again, the Israeli siege and restrictions on the import of construction materials did not prevent the construction of tunnels — it hurt only civilian construction needs. That “stopping the tunnels” would have been a condition in a ceasefire agreement is an Israeli illusion that better end. Just like Israel won’t give up on the $3.1 billion of American assistance, or dismantle an F-16 squadron as a part of an agreement, Hamas won’t give up its right to restore its military deterrence ability. Former commander of Yahalom admits the obvious: “Hamas will resume tunneling as soon as we leave.”
In six months the IDF will still be working on the development of tunnel detection technologies. More critical is the question of dealing with detected tunnels. IDF officers have already clarified during this operation that “dealing with tunnels using aerial bombardments is impossible.” Destruction of the attack tunnels was actually the basis for the ground invasion. A dropped bomb may destroy the entrance and exit, but not its entire length. For that you need soldiers to go inside.
Conclusion: in six months at most, the “achievements” of Operation “Protective Edge” will be erased, and the basis for a ground invasion will be renewed.
Here is the core of the argument again: (1) in most cases, the IDF is unable to detect tunnels in real-time, when built; (2) even if it could, the pace of construction and availability of resources would allow the reconstruction of dozens of cross-fence tunnels within a few months; (3) the only way to destroy a tunnel is a ground invasion (with all of its consequences, including the massacre of innocent civilians, etc.); (4) therefore, Operation “Protective Edge,” like its predecessors, in the long-run will have failed to achieve its defined goals and will only pave the way for the next round.
The IDF will not invade Gaza in six months, but talks about the “attrition of deterrence” and “violation of understandings” on the part of Hamas will start dripping in the next couple of months and will become a propaganda rainstorm soon thereafter. Public opinion will be ready, the weapons stocks renewed and the defense budget will return to voraciously chewing at the budget of everything that requires fixing in Israeli society. Righteous Israelis will continue ranting about Hamas “spending all its money on building tunnels instead of improving life in the Strip,” while nodding obediently when the Defense Ministry absorbs the budgets of social services, public education is deteriorating, hospitals are buckling and the idea of public housing is dead. The grotesque symmetry will escape them. Still there is one difference in the Gazans’ favor: nobody asked them. The dictatorship of Hamas crushes all opposition and then steals public money without fear of criticism. In Israel, “the only democracy in the Middle East,” the public voluntarily sacrifices itself on the altar of defense.
And the politicians? They’ll wait for an appropriate time. A terror attack. Renewed signs of Palestinian unity. Intolerable political pressure. Then they’ll give the order. The media, as always, will stand aside applauding the prime minister’s “responsibility” and “discretion.”
Technologies for conflict management
The cross-fence tunnels are a real threat to the lives of southern Israelis. Eighty-five percent of Israeli citizens living in settlements next to the fence fled their homes out of fear of tunnels, and for weeks after the fighting many refused to return. This threat must be eliminated. But there’s no military way of eliminating this threat, not even for six months. All military measures will only shed blood, spend enormous sums of money and their achievements will wane quickly.
That’s the honest thing to say, and that’s the one thing no politician would dare saying. The reason is saying so suggests that there’s a limit to the effectiveness of Israeli military force (beyond the moral limits, an annoying lefty niche). There do exist political problems with no military solutions. Again, an oxymoron for Israel’s leadership and most of the public.
This problems is wider, extended over a variety of military technologies that Israel adopted as a substitute for political thought. It began with the separation wall and the control and monitoring tools surrounding it, continued with growing use of UAVs and other robots for fighting, and reached the “Iron Dome.” The logics remains the same: minimum friction, maximum control and killing, and most importantly: “breathing room” or “leeway” for politicians.
Notice how frequently this term was used in the media when the “Iron Dome” is praised; also note that the alleged “room” does not include the Gaza border communities, which the “Iron Dome” does not cover. Now they’ll say: we can breath easy because citizens in the center of Israel are protected, not because the citizens in the South are protected.
And for what do we need this extra breathing room? What does Israel do with the time without casualties provided by “Iron Dome?” Again, unasked questions, though the answer is quite obvious: the time is used for escalating the current round, while the next is being planned.
Paradoxically, the allegedly defensive system of “Iron Dome” becomes an offensive gadget in the Israeli arsenal. Its phenomenal success at lowering the casualty levels in the Israeli home front has silenced a powerful political factor, one that forces politicians to end their bloody businesses as fast as possible: the protest of victims, the cry of bereaved parents. Anyone who knows the history of protests against the First Lebanon War and against the presence of soldiers in the buffer zone knows that this was a significant factor. As the casualties on the Israeli side are lowered, the government has more “space” to continue fighting and wreak havoc on the Palestinian side. The losses there will naturally not incite a significant Israeli protest.
Going back to the West Bank wall; it too spared human lives in the short run and decreased terror attacks within Israel dramatically. But at the same time it created a horrid reality for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, who were dispossessed of their land, disconnected from their sources of livelihood or from their family members, and became “temporary residents” on their homeland. That is merely “collateral damage” in the eyes of Israelis, but they boomerang back to us in many shapes, all the time: terror attacks, occasional riots, escalations in the forms of Palestinian resistance and international isolation.
(Hecklers in the crowd: “so what, would you prefer to have no separation wall? No “Iron Dome”? Would you prefer to see all of us be blown up for your justice?” –No. Not at all. But wait just another moment with that one).
The problem is terminology
The problem stems from the terms Israel uses to formulate and describe the conflict with the Palestinians. The basic term is control, and all strategies are derived from it. Israeli leaders cannot escape the idea that Palestinians must be controlled, both in the West Bank and in Gaza, all the time and in all areas of life — and that idea seeps into low-ranking clerks at the Civil Administration. When this is the frame of reference, only utilitarian questions remain: is system A better than system B in maintaining Israeli control?
Indeed, if controlling the Palestinians is everything we want, then the West Bank wall and the “Iron Dome” are excellent solutions. They both ensure minimum casualties on the Israeli side and give “breathing room” for the military and political administrations, which allows them to deepen control over the Palestinians. The blind spot of Israel is that the dynamics of control and technological management only enhance mutual hatred and inability to understand the other side. Israelis in 2014 are so distant from the Palestinian’s world, so detached from his day to day life – and again, thanks the Israeli media for consistently ignoring Gaza when missiles are not launched from it – that everything they are told about Palestinians is readily accepted. On the other hand, Palestinians under the technologically advanced control of Israel are losing every hope that Israel will ever strive for an agreement with them, one based on mutual respect and equality. Try to appeal to the inhabitants of Shujaiyeh, bombarded by the Israeli Air Force with 120 bombs, a ton each, within a week or less. Try telling them that most Israelis actually want to live in peace.
You’ve heard correctly. One hundred and twenty one-ton bombs dropped on a densely populated neighborhood, with inhabitants repeating time and time again – but there’s no one listening on the Israeli side – that they have nowhere to evacuate to. And that was before the ground assault. Close your eyes for a moment and imagine the neighborhood you live in after 120 one-ton bombs are dropped on it from the above.
Do you know the old saying: “when you have a hammer in your hand everything looks like a nail?” Think about who in that allegory is Israel, who is the IDF and who is Gaza. The “control above all” doctrine has a heavy toll on Israeli society, but its most startling aspect is it’s ability to self-perpetuate. The solutions it offers create a reality that requires more these sorts of solutions. If the analysis I propose here for the tunnel annihilation project is correct – the project will fail. Sticking with it means more deadly attacks on Gaza — more and more seeds of hatred for future generations. These seeds will undoubtedly sprout new, more sophisticated and ruthless methods of warfare by Hamas, answered by new creative military solutions by Israel. The longer this snowball rolls, any non-military option is ruled out more aggressively, and even relatively moderate military options become irrelevant.
This is how the logic of escalation works. From the inside, it seems inevitable. (Hamsters running in their wheel probably think that stopping would cause them such horrible injuries that it’s just not worth it.) Those trapped within it cannot imagine a solution that isn’t articulated in the current terms of the conflict. They’re shooting rockets? The only solution can be an air defense system. They’re digging tunnels? The only imaginable solution is founding an elite combat engineering unit specializing in tunnel combat. Every step seems natural, every conclusion inescapable.
Only the final result somehow seems to be a complete absurdity.
Let’s talk about… hmm… the profits
Conflict management technology is big business, and there’s a lot of money in it. Israelis don’t feel comfortable talking about this money; a bit like digging in the pockets of a heart surgeon who saves lives every day. But big businesses and big money are inevitable players in the political game, and whoever wants to understand the game thoroughly can’t afford ignoring them. The fact that “Iron Dome” saves lives doesn’t take away from the fact that there are a number of actors making good money from it, and as its operational deployment and use expands – they make even more.
The “Iron Dome” system is sponsored mostly by American money – a special budget for missile defense systems, in addition to the regular military aid (this year’s package includes $3.1 billion). To this date, the U.S. supported the “Iron Dome” with over $1 billion, and including other missile defense systems such as the “Arrow” and “David’s Sling” – over $2 billion. Only a couple of months ago the Senate approved an addition of $351 million for “Iron Dome”; in less than a week, the American secretary of defence asked for – and received – an additional $225 million to compensate for inadequate stockpiles following “Protective Edge.”
In other words, “Iron Dome” is a joint American-Israeli project. The U.S. gives the money, Israel provides the development and operational experience. The big money coming from Washington to Rafael and Elbit can teach us about the American interest in the Middle East, much more than a hollow statement from the secretary of state. Does the U.S. have any interest in revolutionizing the Middle East – a revolution that would make the expensive “Iron Dome” (every battery costs around $50-60 million, every interceptor missile upwards of $20,000) obsolete? It’s like asking if someone would be interested in deliberately throwing a fortune down the drain. (More in Hebrew here.)
The Israeli weapons manufacturers have decent profits thanks to the conflict. The profits have two stories: the first is selling to the IDF. The second, selling to foreign armies, based on solid evidence tested in the “laboratory” called the Gaza Strip. No commercial is as good as a baptism of fire. But the story is much wider; we can’t even touch the tip of the iceberg here. A huge portion of the Israeli hi-tech sector contributes directly or indirectly to the technologies of conflict management. The major earners are the stockholders, but the huge sums trickle down and actually provide for tens of thousands of families in Israel. That’s also a fact that we should look in the eye when we hear the usual rants about the “losses” due to the war: while you’re losing, someone else is earning. Connected vessels. Presumably, some Israelis who contribute their engineering or computational expertise to the conflict management technologies see themselves, in the hours after work, as peaceful, moderate people. The separation wall, as we know, goes through the soul as well.
My goal in bringing up these facts is simple. I do not intend to claim that Israeli society, or at least a part of it, diligently conspires to perpetuate the conflict in order to make more money. Things almost never work like that, but more prosaically, in a manner Marx concisely described: matter precedes thought. If your being serves the occupation, if your labor creates ideas and products that enable its continuation more easily and with no casualties on our side – this being is probably above every doubt to you; it is as justified as the rising of the sun every morning. You couldn’t even imagine acting in a manner that would undermine this being, appeal against it and try to disrupt it. People, communities and collectives act primarily for self-preservation. That’s how they act; what they’re saying is less important.
Thus, a political course which means a drastic cut to the defense budget; which means taking expensive technologies out of use; which means moving resources of monitoring and control in other directions – also means a political course that pulls the rug out from under the incomes of tens of thousands Israelis (and implicitly, the economic security of hundreds of thousands). These people cannot actively support such a course (though they can support it declaratively), they cannot cooperate with a future that sentences them to economic insecurity. As Amira Hass once wrote, “peace just doesn’t pay.”
This catch-22 has all the fundamentals of a tragedy: a foretold terrible fate, and the hero’s lake of awareness of his own part in fulfilling that fate. In front of our eyes, the hero of “Iron Dome” is replaced with the hero of “tunnel detection.” The best minds in the Israeli defense industry are already working on the sought-after “solution”; the solution that will catalyze the problem that its successor would need to solve, and so forth.
‘So what do you propose?’
This question is a snare many lefties fall into, never to return. This trap is not in the legitimacy of the question; there’s nothing more legitimate. The trap comes after the first, and second and third answer, when you realize that the inquirer is actually ruling out every possible answer and is not open to persuasion.
For this reason, it is better to kindly say goodbye to all who think that it is strictly forbidden to talk to Hamas because (delete as appropriate): the Hamas charter calls for the obliteration of all Jews / the Muslims will never accept us here / you can’t rely on agreements with Arabs / I heard an anti-Semitic speech yesterday by a bearded Imam in Deir el-Balah / look what they’re singing in that video / and so on.
Those lines are not intended for this sort of people. They’re intended for Israelis who are ready to suppose that next to fanatics there are also pragmatic people in Hamas. Just like there are Israeli politicians, religious authorities and public figures calling for ethnic cleansing or genocide in Gaza, and there are others who don’t.
In fact, you only need to recognize that people in Gaza aren’t that different from you. They also want to live in peace without being bombarded from the air. They also want to love and create and travel and enjoy a good song or a movie. And they’re also willing to keep their word if they get what they need in return.
Therefore, the answer to “what are you proposing” is very simple, even trivial (perhaps that’s the reason it sounds like a scam to fanatic right): talk, listen and sign an agreement. Here are some people saying the same thing in more words and more fleshed out arguments (Here, here, here and here). Read them. Here’s a serious expert (Hebrew) who has been claiming for years that it is possible and necessary to sign an agreement with Hamas. An agreement can be anything starting at a temporary cease fire, through a period of calm that renews every couple of months, and to a full peace agreement. All the options are open and there’s no use in committing to any of them at the moment. The demand to go into details when bodies are piling up in Gaza is another favorite snare of the right, one we need to move past.
Years of conditioning has left Israelis with a crazy paranoia that the Arabs will “violate agreements.” This paranoia has basis: no Arab side Israel ever entered an agreement with has ever violated it in military action. The Oslo accords, just a reminder, were endlessly violated on both sides, and in any case were never an equal agreement between independent political beings. Still, the Israeli asks: what if they violate the agreement?
Well, and if they do? Let’s phrase this question differently. What if the Egyptians violate the peace agreement with us? What shall we do then? The answer is of course: what kind of violation, what’s the background for it, at what risk does it put Israeli citizens, and so on. If the Egyptians start bombarding Tel Aviv tomorrow, I’m sure that the Israeli Air Force would be bombing Cairo within minutes. If Hamas were to do the same, it will also meet retaliation. Retaliation must be proportional to the violation, and unlike the murderous operations in Gaza in the last couple of years – it would enjoy worldwide legitimacy (not only the support of the arms supplier, the U.S.). And the anxious inquirer should also be asked: is the situation today, without an agreement, keeping you any safer than a situation with a peace agreement? Against the amnesia attacks during this discussion it’s always worthwhile to pull out this diagram. Eventually, the ancient demon would emerge: “there’s no reason to sign agreements with them, they won’t keep them,” an utterance that in hindsight puts the inquirer in the group of people with whom there’s no point arguing.
Most Israelis are mentally injured, paranoia struck. I’m not cynical. They too are victims of indoctrination; Hamas terror planted the seeds of doubt, but Israeli propaganda watered and nurtured it into a dense forest with no way out. There’s no way of dealing with such mental complexes with logical arguments. There are probably other ways, of therapy or empathy. These are not discussed here, since I knowingly limit myself to appeal only to the minority that is open to logical arguments.
This minority could benefit from a reminder provided by Yonatan Mendel a few weeks ago, a reminder that there is a pragmatic stream within Hamas leadership:
In 1997, 10 years after its establishment, Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin proposed to Israel a ceasefire (hudna) of 30 years. The proposal was mediated through King Hussein of Jordan and was never answered. About two years afterwards, Yassin proposed another ceasefire of 20 years in exchange for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital. The proposal was not answered. According to an investigative report by journalist Shlomi Eldar, seven years after that, in 2006, Hamas political bureau head Khaled Meshaal sent another proposal: a hudna of 25 years in exchange for the end of the occupation in the West Bank and in Gaza. The proposal was not answered. Ahmed Yousef, a senior adviser to Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniya, said that to end the occupation he would be willing to have ceasefire for 60 years, and that the next generations would be the ones to sign the peace agreement. The proposal was not answered. In 2007 the same Yousef passed along a proposal to an unlimited ceasefire in exchange for the release of all Palestinian prisoners and a return to the ‘67 borders. The proposal was not answered. In 2014, just before the ground assault of the IDF, there arrived another proposal of a ceasefire for 10 years. For the first time, the proposal did not include return to the borders of 67’ and release of Palestinian prisoners as conditions, but only the normalization of life in the Strip, including permitting fishing at a distance of 10 kilometers from shore, international supervision in Rafah crossing, and the release of Palestinian prisoners that were previously released three years ago in the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange. This proposal was again not answered by Israel.
And the tunnels? And Iron Dome?
With all of my criticism against the “Iron Dome” system and against the effort to destroy cross-fence tunnels, I’m not suggesting we stop them now, of course. The tragedy of the Israeli situation, as explained earlier, is that the political-military leadership directs the public into traps that do not allow other solutions. In my current situation, I cannot oppose the “Iron Dome,” a life saving system that may have saved my life. I also can’t oppose efforts to detect all cross-fence tunnels and deny the Gaza border communities a normal life.
My argument was that these solutions, which have in a way been “forced” upon us in the current situation, are perpetuating and radicalizing the never ending rounds of violence. The calm they provide in the short run is lost in the long run, with losses on both sides of the fence at intervals that are not actually that long (between two to three years). These solutions also take away our ability to imagine an alternative.
And this alternative can protect us much better. An alternative of a signed agreement with two equal, independent sides, without a monitoring and control system on one side, is an alternative that both sides would make serious efforts to preserve – by fighting militant elements on their own side. In this scenario, Israel learns to live with the existence of stockpiles of munitions it can’t control, just like it learned to live with the existence of ammunition stockpiles in Egypt and in Lebanon. Israel is currently learning to live with cross-fence tunnels, which it cannot completely destroy, just as much as Palestinian are learning to live with F-16s that Israel can put over their heads in seconds and that destroy families in a moment.
To summarize: Israel is learning to live under the constant threat of an armed neighbor, just like the neighbor learned to live under the IDF’s constant threat. I cite Danny Baron’s question: “does the fact that Hamas decided to use the tunnels now, though they have been ready for a long time, teach us that Hamas is not lead by a bunch of crazy radical Islamists, but actually holds a variety of instruments, which it uses intelligently, and when it is best served to do so – just like Israel?”
Israel will sooner or later need to let go the crazy fantasy that it can control the levels of armament of its neighbors, thereby ensuring the safety of its citizens. It turns out that despite all of Israel’s glamorous operations capturing weapons shipments, Hamas was able to accumulate long-distance rockets under the ever-watching eyes of the Israeli intelligence. We better not even start talking about Hezbollah. A security-mad and military-obsessed state like Israel cannot lose its senses with every rockets shipment that ends up in Arab hands. Israel must grow up and understand that real deterrence is achieved in political ways. (Did you forget it again? The diagram is still here.)
Hamas will not stop shooting missiles at us and infiltrating into our populations through underground tunnels because it is afraid we will flatten another neighborhood in Gaza or commit another massacre in response. No, we do all of that mercilessly, and Hamas keeps fighting. It will stop fighting us if and when holding its fire becomes more beneficial than using it: if a signed agreement promises it that valuable assets will be lost the moment it starts shooting. Right now, with no political assets – it has no reason to stop.
And yes, the siege must be removed — entirely.
This post was first published in Hebrew on Idan Landau’s blog.