Adonis Diaries

Are “Terror Tunnels” mere Israeli propaganda?

Posted on: August 1, 2014


Are “Terror Tunnels” mere Israeli propaganda?

Apparently, this is the first war that the real engagements are done underground.  The Israeli air force is totally helpless attacking fighters dug underground and counterattacking from behind the “enemy lines” through tunnels…  Or that’s how the stories are being disseminated.

After Palestinian fighters attacked a military staging area on Monday night of July 28, killing several Israeli soldiers, Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu said, “We will not complete [Operation Protective Edge] without neutralizing the tunnels, the sole purpose of which is the destruction of our civilians and the killing of our children.”

In a New York Times report from the same day, Lt. Col. Oshik Azulai of the Israeli army’s Southern Gaza Division told journalist Jodi Rudoren that Hamas militants “want to use these tunnels to attack women and children.” (Very funny Azulai)

Joel Gillin posted this July 31st, 2014

The existence of these so-called “terror tunnels” have become the alleged impetus behind Israel’s ground invasion of Gaza, which began on July 8. Israeli officials are unwilling to say how many of these tunnels they believe Hamas has built, but a vague estimate of “several dozen” has been given.

(Israel didn’t start this preemptive war against any the tunnels. The military usage of Gaza fighters of these tunnels, primarily used for trade, to hit Israeli troops behind their lines got Israel to change their objectives)

The tunnels did not, however, trigger Israeli’s latest operation in Gaza. Instead, Netanyahu’s pretext for the invasion was the alleged Hamas-sanctioned kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank. Despite initial claims by the Israeli government, the incident was almost certainly not a Hamas operation. But any excuse was a good excuse, it would seem.

(It turned out that an Israeli adolescent was behind the kidnapping and killing and the Shin Beth knew the story from the start)

Since the bombing first began, the objectives of Operation Protective Edge have notably shifted, as journalist Gregg Carlstrom has pointed out.

First, Israel sought to achieve a “quieting” of Hamas rockets, then the destruction of the alleged tunnel threat (the tunnels themselves have been known about for years), and now the complete disarmament of Hamas. As Carlstrom argues, Israel’s operation in Gaza has become “an open-ended military campaign yoked to the ever-more-difficult political objective of sustaining an unsustainable status quo.”

Use of the “terror” label is but one of many tactics the Israeli government has yet again employed to drum up support among its citizens and the international community for its war in Gaza. The U.S. media has openly embraced Israel’s problematic “terror tunnel” narrative; CNN’s Wolf Blitzer even paid a visit to these subterranean structures to show just how much effort went into building them.

In compiling his report, Blitzer allowed Lt. Col. Azouli to go unchallenged in his claims that the tunnels facilitate attacks on “regular people, children, women, men” in Israel.

Thus far, the U.S. media has willfully failed to mention or even notice the obvious lack of evidence showing the tunnels have ever been used for terrorism. Virtually all international organizations that deal with the conflict in Israel/Palestine recognize that rocket fire from Gaza is illegitimate because of its inherently indiscriminate nature.

Failing to distinguish between civilian and military targets means rocket attacks violate the laws of war. To date, however, no civilians have been killed via incursions launched from the tunnels, which run from Gaza into Israel. Nor does Hamas appear to be using the tunnels to target Israeli civilians in any way.

Hamas’ first known use of the tunnels came in 2006, when it exploited the passageways to capture Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, during a flare-up of hostilities before Israel’s military campaign against Lebanon.

Since the start of the latest conflict, all those killed as a result of Hamas’s tunnel attacks have been combatants (i.e. Israeli soldiers), who are permissible targets under the laws of war. Despite the rhetoric and many distorted media reports on the topic, there is no evidence Hamas has used the tunnels to attempt an attack on civilians or civilian objects.

The website of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs currently lists four incidents of alleged Hamas violence attempted from these tunnels, none of which were successful. In all its descriptions of these incidents, the website includes the distance between the opening of the tunnels and the nearest kibbutz. This information is ostensibly given to make it appear the tunnels are being used to target particular civilian villages. Gaza’s border with Israel is, however, lined with small Israeli kibbutzim, making it difficult for Hamas fighters to emerge anywhere but near one of these areas.

As the government website claims, on July 17th, militants emerged “only 1.5 km (less than a mile) away from Sufa, a kibbutz,” where the tunnel opening was just 250 meters from the border.

While Israeli President Shimon Peres claimed Hamas had planned a “wholesale slaughter” of the kibbutz, the video of the incident released by Israel fails to show the gunmen more than a few meters away from the tunnel’s opening. Israeli military sources claimed – without evidence – that “the gunmen evidently planned to attack the kibbutz, killing and possibly kidnapping civilians.”

In its report, “Trouble Underfoot on Israeli Kibbutz Near Border,” The New York Times seemed to take the Israeli military at its word, although the article acknowledged the attacks were only “presumably” planned against Sufa. Even the normally careful writer Greg Mitchell appeared to believe that a “planned attack by a handful of men on the kibbutz had been thwarted.”

Contrary to the Israeli government’s claims, all evidence indicates combatants have been the only targets of Hamas’ tunnel operations. In an incident on July 21st, just days after the alleged Sufa attack, several militants struck an Israeli army vehicle before being killed themselves. Footage of the incident showed Hamas members laying an ambush for the IDF, and not heading toward a kibbutz. The most recent attack on July 28th was more successful for Hamas fighters, who killed several soldiers before returning to Gaza through one of the tunnels.

In an about face, a senior Israeli intelligence officer is now claiming that “Hamas operatives aim primarily to abduct soldiers and not to penetrate into civilian communities along the border with Gaza,” according to the Times of Israel.

In a revealing admission, the officer pointed out that none of the tunnels actually reaches civilian communities, even though they could easily do so. Indeed, Hamas is likely seeking to attack and/or capture Israeli soldiers through these tunnels.

Captured soldiers are an incredibly powerful bargaining chip for the group, as demonstrated by the release of over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Shalit in 2011.

But this Hamas strategy cannot justify the pummeling of Gaza’s civilian population and infrastructure. Combatants are lawful targets during war. In an attempt to minimize or end these attacks, the Israeli government has no grounds for pursuing civilians, private homes, schools, hospitals, power plants and other civilian and humanitarian installations, which cannot be lawfully targeted under humanitarian law and which Israel has indiscriminately bombed.

In its framing of the “terror tunnels,” the Israeli government has essentially claimed that all military action by Hamas, including attacks against Israeli soldiers, are inherently illegitimate and illegal. This is precisely why Israel is demanding the demilitarization of Gaza, even though this would be a non-starter in any negotiations for a sustainable ceasefire.

Without a shred of evidence, much of the U.S. media has repeated Israeli government claims about the nature and purpose of these tunnels.

In part, it is because of the media’s failure to challenge this propaganda that a majority of Americans blame Hamas for this round of violence and continue to support Israel even as its bombs kill Palestinians by the hundreds and render them homeless by the hundreds of thousands.


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