by Ari Lieberman
IDF deploys the Iron Dome and places troops on alert.
At least seven Palestinian terrorists were killed and 12 injured hours ago after the Israeli Army discovered a terror tunnel that extended from Gaza into Israeli territory. According to Israel’s Channel 2, eleven terrorists were killed. Most of the terrorists belonged to the Islamic Jihad group but some were affiliated with Hamas.
According to Palestinian sources, the tunnel was destroyed with an airstrike. Israeli sources, which are generally more reliable, claim that it was destroyed with a controlled explosion. Israel’s combat engineering units train incessantly for such scenarios and have played a key role in detecting and destroying terror tunnels. In the past two years, several Palestinian-constructed tunnels have mysteriously and inexplicably collapsed, killing dozens of terror operatives trapped inside. Palestinians have accused Israel of deploying a new weapon and the Israelis have not denied the existence of such a top-secret device.
Israel believes that the tunnel was constructed after Operation Protective Edge, which took place in 2014. Palestinians have attempted to employ tunnels as an offensive strategic weapon for the purpose of infiltrating Israeli territory and perpetrating mass killings and kidnappings. However, at least three dozen of these tunnels were destroyed during Operation Protective Edge, thwarting Hamas’s ghoulish designs. Hamas terrorists have invested substantial sums in creating a network of tunnels that crisscross the Gaza Strip. They have also diverted cement and steel, designated for civilian use, to construct tunnels.
According to Israeli officials, the tunnel ran from the Gazan city of Khan Younis, crossed under the border for several dozen feet, and approached the Israeli Kibbutz of Kissufim. An Israeli military spokesperson noted that none of the Kibbutz residents were in danger as the tunnel was destroyed approximately 1 and ¼ miles from the kibbutz. Officials added that construction of the tunnel was being monitored for a period of time prior to its destruction.
According to Palestinian sources, at least five of the dead were identified as Islamic Jihad members while two were affiliated with Hamas. The discovery of the tunnel, its destruction and the deaths of so many terrorists has significantly raised tensions near the Gaza periphery.
The Israel Defense Forces declared the area near the Gaza Strip a closed military zone. In addition, Israel readied its Iron Dome batteries in anticipation of retaliatory rocket fire. Iron Dome proved its mettle during Operation Pillar of Defense, which occurred in 2012 and then again during Operation Protective Edge. In 2012, the system scored an 85% success rate and in 2014, Iron Dome boasted an even greater success rate, shooting down more than 700 Hamas rockets. Iron Dome calculates the rocket’s trajectory and is only fired if it is determined that the rocket will land in populated areas.
Predictably, Islamic Jihad called for retaliation. An Islamic Jihad spokesman posted the following combative comment on twitter: “The Zionist terror government must realize that we will not hesitate to protect our people and our land.” Hamas issued similar militant comments.
The question that everyone is asking now is whether this incident will spiral into a full-scale conflagration. In 2014, a Hamas kidnapping of three hitchhiking Israeli youths provoked a series of escalations that resulted in full-scale war.
In November 2008, the IDF discovered a Hamas tunnel in the midst of construction. Israeli intelligence confirmed that the tunnel was going to be used for the purpose of kidnapping soldiers. Based on solid intelligence, the IDF acted resolutely, destroying the tunnel and killing five Hamas operatives in the process. Hamas escalated tensions by firing rockets at Israeli civilian population centers, and by the end of December Israel was forced to initiate Operation Cast Lead, a full-scale counter insurgency operation aimed at halting the rocket fire.
The situation for Hamas at present is somewhat different than it was in 2009 and 2014. Hamas is currently in the midst of a delicate reconciliation with its Palestinian Authority rival. A full-scale war with Israel at this precarious juncture could produce unintended consequences and unravel the entire deal. Moreover, Hamas leaders are cognizant of the thrashing they received at the hands of Israel in 2009, 2012 and 2014. In 2014 alone, Israel killed nearly 1,000 terrorist operatives including several senior commanders, severely depleted Hamas’s rocket arsenal and reduced three-dozen terror tunnels to rubble. Hamas is in no mood for another round, one in which it will surely lose.
Politically too, Hamas is isolated. Relations with Egypt are at a nadir. Egypt has repeatedly blamed Hamas for fomenting instability in northern Sinai and has sealed off the Gaza Strip from Sinai. Moreover, Hamas can no longer rely on Obama – who maintained hostile relations with Israel – to curtail Israeli military activity. The Trump administration views Israel as a vital ally and sympathizes with its security needs and Hamas knows this. For these reasons, it is unlikely that Hamas will choose to escalate tensions by retaliating for Hamas knows that in any war with Israel, it will lose both militarily and politically.
Ari Lieberman is an attorney and former prosecutor who has authored numerous articles and publications on matters concerning the Middle East and is considered an authority on geo-political and military developments affecting the region.
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