by Moshe Dann
Israeli military action in the Gaza Strip prompts two basic questions? How did
In focus now, finally, are the estimated hundreds of tunnels under the town of
Rafah, a 4 km long Arab town that straddles the Egyptian-Gaza border, is the key to preventing Hamas from obtaining weapons and ending the conflict. Without the supply of ammunition and weapons, Hamas could not sustain a military confrontation, or fire rockets into Israeli cities. Why, then, has
In the wake of the Israeli-Arab war in 1948-9,
The remaining 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip, with government backing, provided a strategic method for controlling the strip, and became an economic powerhouse, providing jobs and stability to local Arabs.
In the late 1980's, when the Arab "uprising" (intifada) against
Following the Oslo Accords (1994), Israel turned over control of Jericho and Gaza City to the PA as the first stage of a proposed withdrawal from all Arab-populated areas in the entire West Bank (Yehuda and Shomron), which was intended to comprise a Palestinian state.
From time to time, under Israeli control, the IDF tried to deal with the tunnel problem. Several solutions were proposed:
(2) a water-filled trench along the Egyptian-Gazan border (about 15 kms) through Rafah was rejected by Israeli "experts." This has not been explained publicly.
(3) removing Arab homes on the Israeli/Palestinian side, relocating its residents and arresting the clans that run the tunnels was also rejected.
According to an informed source, when
A recent interview in Haaretz with head of MI suggests that reports were submitted to fit political, rather than security considerations.
The tunnels are big business, costing $100,000 to build -- the investment is recovered in a few weeks, or less. Directly supported and financed by the PA according to documents found by the IDF, the tunnels are controlled by criminal gangs with close ties to the PA, and provide a major source of illegal funding to PA officials and local residents.
To support the PA, the Israeli government often ignored the tunnel business, except for limited IDF action in 2004, which was a prelude to PM Sharon's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2006 ("disengagement").
In May, 2007, the Israeli Comptroller reported that the IDF failed to procure and develop technology to locate and destroy the tunnels. Only at the end of 2004, when terrorists mounted deadly attacks against IDF positions in the Gaza Strip was the issue taken seriously.
Although warned by military and security experts not to abandon the critical border area with
According to Israeli military sources, nearly all the tunnels are located in Rafah. A look at the map explains why: Rafah is the only town on the southern border, and therefore is the only place that can provide cover for the tunnels which stretch only a few hundred meters between the Egyptian and Gazan sides of the town.
The tunnels cannot extend beyond Rafah because the distance to the nearest town, Khan Yunis, is too far and the area is uninhabited. Without Rafah's cover, therefore, tunnel smuggling will end. And without the ability to resupply its weaponry, Hamas will either be forced to focus on economic and social betterment, or implode.
The problem of these tunnels can be resolved simply, cheaply, quickly and without violence:
Moshe Dann, a former assistant professor of History (CUNY) is a writer and journalist living in
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