Commentary Magazine

The Tunnel Plot

The Tunnel Plot

The third major round of fighting between Israel and Hamas in Gaza since 2008 wound up being fought as much underground as in the skies. The discovery of a massive network of tunnels built to facilitate cross-border raids to kidnap and kill Israelis transformed the fighting and the objectives of the conflict.

Israeli intelligence sources report that the plan was to stage a mass raid into Israeli border communities on Rosh Hashanah that would have resulted in heavy Israeli casualties and untold numbers of hostages. That this atrocity was averted before the plot could be carried out was an unintended consequence of Hamas’s decision to launch a war.

These terror tunnels were a physical manifestation of the Hamas charter that not only calls for Israel’s elimination but the genocide of its Jewish population. Like the event that set in motion the events that led to war—the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli students by a Hamas cell in the Hebron area of the West Bank—the tunnels sent an unmistakable message: Hamas’s goal is not the end of the “occupation” so much as it is the end of Jewish life in the country.

The Rocket Plan

From a military point of view, Hamas’s decision to unleash thousands of rockets on Israel was a colossal failure. The Iron Dome missile-defense system jointly developed by the U.S. and Israel proved itself more than equal to the challenge. But Hamas achieved two not-insignificant ends.

The first was causing the majority of Israel’s population to dash in and out of bomb shelters and safe rooms for weeks. Casualties were minimal, but the mere act of shooting long-range missiles that could reach Israel’s main population centers terrorized the country as nothing has since the second intifada. Iron Dome saved countless lives—but as long as Hamas and its rocket arsenal remain intact, protected in no small measure by international condemnation of Israeli counter-attacks, the threat remains as well.

The other victory for terror was the reaction of the U.S. Federal Aviation Authority to a Hamas rocket’s falling harmlessly to the ground a few miles from Ben Gurion International Airport. The FAA ruling that banned U.S. carriers from landing at Ben Gurion did more damage to Israel than any Hamas rocket—though it was rescinded soon after.

What Gaza Bomb Shelters Are For

The main problems in terms of international opinion were the lopsided casualty figures. While Israelis were rightly unwilling to apologize for its citizens not being killed in the numbers that Hamas wished, there was no doubt that Palestinian civilians were suffering the fate of all populations trapped in a war zone. Some Palestinian sympathizers claimed the Jewish state had an unfair advantage in the war since Palestinians did not have access to bomb shelters but Israelis did. This was not true. Gaza may well have had more bomb shelters per square mile than any place in Israel. But they were not for civilians.

In addition to the tunnel network that stretched from deep inside Gaza to the Israeli border, Hamas has also honeycombed the narrow strip with underground structures. Those structures exist to shield Hamas’s leadership, thousands of fighters, and thousands of rockets and other munitions. Shelters for bombs, not people.

Other bunkers existed underneath hospitals, mosques and schools for the purpose of ensuring the safety of Hamas personnel and material and protecting its command-and-control system. Had these facilities been opened up to the people of Gaza, civilian casualties would have been greatly reduced. But that would not only have put Hamas fighters in peril, it would have also undermined the terrorist group’s goal of maximizing the number of Palestinian deaths to create sympathy for their cause.


One of the loudest critics of Israel throughout the fighting was the United Nations. But UNRWA, the UN group that runs the “refugee” camps in Gaza, was once again shown to have been a handmaiden to Hamas. The revelation of caches of Hamas rockets at a number of UN-run schools in July was bad enough. But the decision of UNRWA officials to make sure that Hamas was given back its missiles after they were discovered was even more egregious. The unwillingness or the inability of UN officials to keep Hamas fighters away from facilities where they drew Israeli fire was the primary reason for many deaths at these places. Bias was further proved by UNRWA’s endorsement of Hamas’s demands for an end to the blockade of the terrorist-run territory.

The Media Fail Again

As the war dragged on, Israel came under increasing criticism because of the appalling pictures and videos of Palestinian civilian casualties in Gaza. But while these pictures were an inescapable part of the story of the war, the media that blanketed Gaza in search of bloody evidence of Israeli cruelty seemed unable to capture an essential part of the true nature of the conflict: Hamas fighters and rocket launches. Throughout the weeks of coverage, major newspapers failed to publish photos of Hamas fighters or to snap a shot or a video of a single rocket launch—despite their having occurred hundreds of times a day. Nor, even in the course of filming Palestinian civilians wounded or killed as Israelis returned fire at terrorists, did they ever once capture on film Hamas fighters operating in close proximity to civilians. This astonishing failure was due to two possible factors. Either the news media in Gaza was too scared of Hamas to tell the truth about its behavior, or they lacked interest in providing proof that would undermine the Israeli account of the fighting. Both explanations are indictments.

About the Author

Jonathan Tobin is senior online editor of COMMENTARY.

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