Commentary Magazine


How the West Helped Hamas Build Its War Machine

Yesterday, I wrote about one important way in which the West helps Hamas. Clearly, there are also many others, including media coverage that encourages Hamas’s use of human shields (as Alan Dershowitz explains here) or even parrots outright Hamas lies (as Noah Pollak explains here). But Monday’s Jerusalem Post editorial highlighted one important form of assistance to Hamas that has received far too little attention despite contributing greatly to Gaza’s current misery: the West’s relentless pressure on Israel to stop restricting imports of “dual-use” items into Gaza.

For years, human-rights groups, diplomats, pundits, and other opinion leaders demanded an end to the “siege” of Gaza, and eventually, they succeeded. President Barack Obama deserves special mention here; it was he who, after Israel’s botched raid on a flotilla to Gaza in 2010, twisted Israel’s arm into drastically easing its import controls. The pressure increased again after Egypt tightened its own blockade of Gaza last year, leading Israel to remove all remaining restrictions on construction materials like cement and iron.

Most of those who pressed Israel on this issue sincerely wanted to improve Palestinian lives: Eliminating import restrictions, they argued, would let Gaza residents build homes and businesses, improve the economy, and generally contribute to Palestinian wellbeing. So they blithely dismissed Israel’s warnings that these materials would actually be used not to help ordinary Palestinians, but to build Hamas’s terror infrastructure.

We now know Israel’s warnings were 100 percent correct. As Jonathan Tobin has already noted, Hamas built a vast warren of underground bunkers to protect its rockets and its own personnel. It also built dozens of cross-border tunnels dedicated solely to launching attacks inside Israel; the IDF has so far located 28–each of which runs for miles, deep underground, requiring hundreds of tons of cement and millions of dollars to build–and doesn’t think it has found them all. Yet Hamas built no hospitals, schools, power plants, or even bomb shelters to serve the general population; where such institutions exist, they were built either by Israel (when it controlled Gaza) or the international community.

Hamas built much of its underground warren with materials smuggled in from Egypt. But Israel’s lifting of restrictions last year undoubtedly helped. And even before that, Israel allowed huge quantities of dual-use products to be imported for projects supervised by the UN, Western governments, or international aid agencies, who were supposed to ensure that Hamas didn’t use them for its terrorist infrastructure. Given the sheer size of the tunnel network, it now seems likely that Hamas siphoned off some of this material, too–just as it has repeatedly stored rockets in UNRWA schools despite that organization’s stated objections.

Had Hamas not been able to build these tunnels, Israeli ground troops wouldn’t be in Gaza trying to destroy them. And had Israeli troops not been in Gaza, the hundreds of Palestinians wounded or killed in the Hamas-Israel crossfire would be unharmed, while the hundreds of homes damaged or destroyed in the fighting, or in the demolition of tunnels that run right under them, would still be standing.

In other words, in its well-meaning effort to improve Palestinian lives by demanding that Israel end its import restrictions, the international community helped Hamas build a massive terrorist infrastructure that has now brought death and destruction down on Gaza. I wonder whether all the Palestinians who have lost their loved ones or their homes think those extra tons of imported cement were worth the price.

I also wonder whether the West will learn the lessons for next time. Hamas is demanding that any cease-fire include a complete removal of all Israeli and Egyptian import restrictions and the end of Israel’s naval blockade. Pressuring Israel to comply with this demand would be a mistake. For not only would it show Hamas that launching rockets at Israel is an effective way of securing political gains, it would also facilitate its efforts to rebuild its war machine for the next round.

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2 Responses to “How the West Helped Hamas Build Its War Machine”

  1. TIKI SHAPIRA says:

    And what has changed? Nothing!

    America & UAE are already giving $85 milj., France is already giving approx. 20 milj. and this is just the beginning.

    Has the Western bias against Israel changed? NO!
    Has the UNHRC bias against Israel changed? NO!
    Has the media bias against Israel changed? NO!
    Has the world learned anything? NO!

    The West hasn’t learned it’s lesson but they will when terror will come to their doorstep, brought back from Syria by their ‘new ‘citizens for whom EU-law is nothing more than a nuisance, not worth abiding by!


    The choices available to Netanyahu and his cabinet as to what steps to now take in the current war against Hamas would seem to be a hierarchy of three bad choices, with the worst choice perhaps, paradoxically, being the best, in the intermediate term. Israel can probably effect a ceasefire without accepting any of Hamas’s demands, destroying as much of Hamas’s tunnel complex and rocket stockpiles as it can in the time remaining, and withdraw the IDF. Hamas will, of course, immediately begin rebuilding its tunnel network and acquiring even more sophisticated rockets from Iran, with whom it is a client state. The date of the next Hamas attack on Israel, which, under this scenario, is inevitable, will be chosen by Iran and Hamas, and, possibly, Hezbollah. In the meantime Israel will work as quickly as possible to combine several existing geologic techniques designed to alert the government to Hamas attempts to tunnel under the Israeli border. The next Hamas attack may then be constrained to rockets–rockets with greater range and far more accurate guidance systems. It is far from clear that Israel’s Iron Dome defense system, reported to be 90% successful, will be adequate in the face of massed Hamas launches of improved rockets. The prospect of Hamas succeeding in substantially damaging Israel’s civilian and military infrastructure, as well as inflicting heavy civilian casualties seems more probable than not. At the very least, massed rocket attacks by Hamas will more likely than not essentially shut down Israel’s economy and prohibit anything like normal civilian life. There would seem to be two remaining choices.

    One choice is to extend the war in order to completely destroy Hamas’s tunnel network, including the tunnels and bunkers underneath Gaza City, which store much of Hamas’s rocket arsenal and provide protection for Hamas’s political and military leadership. This choice is to essentially disarm and demilitarize Hamas and Gaza and must include a permanent Israeli re-occupation of the Philadelphia corridor, a one or two kilometer strip at the Egyptian-Gaza border, which contains scores of tunnels through which Gazans are supplied with black market consumer goods and Hamas is supplied with rockets, rocket manufacturing material and other weapons, much of it from its Iranian sponsor. Can Gaza and Hamas be kept disarmed and demilitarized–the second choice– without a total Israeli reoccupation of Gaza? If the answer is no, then Israel must choose the worst but safest intermediate term course: Remove Gaza’s Hamas leaders, reach and remove Hamas leaders living abroad and reoccupy Gaza–all in the face of immense anti-occupation pressures from the Obama administration, Russia, Iran and Western Europe.

    In the background, an Israeli occupation of Gaza and continued control of the West bank cannot be maintained for long without a massive Israeli air strike against key Iranian nuclear development facilities–a strike which may have to entail certain Israeli special ground forces. Should Iran develop nuclear missile capability, MAD, (mutually assured destruction) will no longer be a deterrent; Israel’s threat of last resort, the use of nuclear weapons, will vanish. Israel would then be faced with consolidated and simultaneous attacks by all its neighboring states and other Arab countries–a war fought with conventional weapons, which it cannot win without massive assistance from the U.S. and other democratic states that maintain standing air and ground forces.

    This, and God knows what else, Netanyahu and his cabinet must ponder.

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