Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

An Apologetic No-Apology in Gaza


When Israel found a terror tunnel crossing the border into its territory on Oct. 30, it did what every country would do: It destroyed it. The tunnel was not there for peaceful purposes, and Israel did not use peaceful means to destroy it. It bombed it. And as the tunnel crumbled, Islamic Jihad operatives were killed — no great loss for those wanting peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians.

Those killed were not the target of the operation; they were collateral damage. But being who they were, you would not expect Israel to feel overcome with sorrow over their unplanned deaths. Still, when Israel Defense Forces (IDF) officers were speaking about the incident, they sounded almost apologetic about the killing. Boastful remarks were rare — the military was proud of the new technologies that enabled the operational achievement, yet refrained from counting the killing of terrorists as part of that achievement. Politicians were asked by the prime minister to keep their thoughts to themselves — and did.

Why?

Pragmatism.

Left-wingers more easily accept Israel’s decision in this case.

Israel is a pragmatic country with pragmatic policies — and this is no less true when it has a right-wing government headed by a hawkish prime minister. It does not need an eruption of violence in Gaza. It does not seek confrontation with Hamas. It does not want to give the impression that its goal is to disrupt the process of Hamas-Fatah reconciliation. Of course, this does not mean that it will turn a blind eye when a terror tunnel is discovered. But it does mean that a small price, such as faking an apologetic response about killing very bad people, is not out of the question.

Or is it?

Some Israelis on the right, most notably Education Minister Naftali Bennett, did not easily accept these rules of overly restrained Israeli response. “We should not apologize for succeeding in eliminating terrorists,” Bennett said. Politicians in Israel — much like in the United States — see apologies as unfashionable and unnecessary. President Donald Trump does not apologize, but Bennett can take credit for having had a no-apology policy even before Trump. Maybe that’s the reason for his gut reaction to the IDF’s half-hearted celebration of victory.

It is easy to identify with Bennett’s reluctance to accept these rules of restraint. After all, these terrorists were coming to kill us, and we killed them right back! It is also easy to understand why the IDF is being so cautious. After all, the military would be the one having to deal with any eruption of violence. And if such violence can be avoided by having a low-profile celebration of this small victory, why not try this approach?

Politics, as always, stands in the way.

Right-wingers are lukewarm about playing down their response and wonder whether the IDF’s action indicates it is guilty of a defeatist apprehension of Hamas. The Israeli right-wing has developed a bad habit of constantly looking for signs of weakness in others, always suspecting that Israelis other than right-wingers do not have the stomach to do what it takes to keep this country safe.

Left-wingers more easily accept Israel’s decision in this case. Their instinctive preference is for Israel to always be restrained and always be considerate of the sensitivities of the Palestinians. But as they praise Israel for this measured, calculated response, they fail to notice other aspects of this exact same realism. Taking things as they are and not as you’d want them to be, accepting small humiliations so as not to complicate an already complicated situation — these explain both Israel’s limited celebration this week and Israel’s averse response to peace processing.

Sober realism, pragmatic attitude, a results-driven approach — all these have benefits and a price that cut both ways. They can make us curb our enthusiasm when terrorists — our most-detested, most-radical enemies — are killed. They also can make us curb our enthusiasm when a pipe dream of peace is offered.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

IDF Won’t Apologize for Killing Terrorists in Hamas Tunnel Blast


The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) will not apologize for killing terrorists while blowing up a Hamas tunnel on Monday.

IDF Spokesman Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis said that the explosion, which killed seven terrorists, wounded 12 others and left five terrorists missing wasn’t meant to harm any Palestinian. Education Minister Naftali Bennett used Manelis’ statement to claim that the IDF was apologizing for killing terrorists.

“These were terrorists involved in digging an attack tunnel inside Israeli territory with which they intended to kill Israeli women and children,” Bennett tweeted.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman fired back on Twitter, writing that “comments like this seriously damage the security of Israel and the IDF.” Yesh Atid MK Elaza Stern, a former IDF general, issued a statement denouncing Bennett’s comments and stating that the IDF in no way apologized for the killing of terrorists.

“It is a shame that government ministers, instead of backing the IDF after an incident like this, chose once again to use it to score political points at the army’s expense,” said Stern.

Two of the terrorists killed in the tunnel explosion were senior commanders for the terrorist organization Islamic Jihad.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) has responded to the tunnel explosion by accusing Israel of using poison gas to kill the terrorist, who they referred to as “martyrs.”

“We call on all of the international organizations to stop these materials that the Israeli occupation is using against our unarmed people,” PA Health Ministry Spokesman Ashraf Al-Qudra said to the PA’s news outlet.

Hamas has called the explosion “a dangerous escalation against our people” and Iran referred to Israel as the “blood-sucking Zionist regime” in response to the explosion.

Gaza terror tunnel into Israel discovered


A Hamas-built tunnel from Gaza into Israel aimed at executing terror attacks has been discovered, the Israel Defense Forces said Monday.

The tunnel is the first to be found since Operation Protective Edge, the summer 2014 Gaza War, according to the IDF, which worked in conjunction with the Shin Bet security service in discovering the tunnel. The IDF said it has destroyed the tunnel openings on both the Israeli and Gazan sides.

In a statement, the IDF said the tunnel was built by the terrorist organization Hamas “in order to infiltrate Israel and execute terror attacks against the people of the southern communities.” In a statement Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel is “investing considerable capital” in countering the tunnels, and that the effort “will not end overnight.”

“Israel will respond strongly to any attempt to attack its soldiers and civilians,” Netyanyahu said. “I am certain that Hamas understands this very well.”

But Hamas vowed that the destruction of this tunnel did not signal an end to conflict, according to the Times of Israel.

“What the enemy has discovered is only a drop in the sea from what the resistance has prepared to defend its people, to liberate the holy places, its prisoners and land,” Hamas’s military wing said in a statement Monday.

The 2014 war, which saw more than 2,100 Palestinians and some 70 Israelis die, was fought largely over the tunnels. Following several attempted infiltrations into Israel, the IDF invaded Gaza hoping to root out the tunnel network, resulting in brutal battles across the coastal territory. Israel withdrew after destroying or otherwise eliminating the threat of some three dozen tunnels.

The tunnel discovered Monday began in a southern Gaza residential neighborhood, according to Haaretz. On the Israel side it is located between the border fence and Israeli military bases, and was about 100 feet below ground.

It is not known when the tunnel was constructed and how many branches it has.

Hamas claims to have built new terror tunnel to Israel


Hamas claims to have built a new terror tunnel to be used in the next conflict against Israel.

A video of the tunnel was screened Sunday on Iranian television, according to reports. A masked terrorist filmed in the tunnel said it measures 2 miles long and is made of concrete. The report indicated that the tunnel crosses over into Israel, according to The Jerusalem Post, which reported that official Israeli assessments do not believe this is true.

Israeli troops destroyed tunnels used by Gaza terror groups during last summer’s Israel-Gaza conflict.

Hamas has been conducting war exercises in recent weeks, the Times of Israel reported, and has threatened to build new tunnels. A road was constructed recently on the Gaza side of the border security fence.

Egypt to deepen buffer zone with Gaza after finding longer tunnels


Egypt will double the depth of a security buffer zone it is clearing on its border with the Gaza Strip to 0.62 miles after some of the worst anti-state violence since President Mohamed Morsi was overthrown last year.

Egypt declared a state of emergency in the border area after at least 33 security personnel were killed last month in two attacks in the Sinai Peninsula, a remote but strategic region bordering Israel, Gaza and the Suez Canal.

It also accelerated plans to create a 500-metre deep buffer strip along the border by clearing houses and trees and destroying subterranean tunnels it says are used to smuggle arms from Gaza to militants in Sinai.

“A decision was taken to increase the buffer zone along the border in Rafah to one kilometre. The decision … came after the discovery of underground tunnels with a total length of 800 to 1,000 metres,” the state MENA news agency said.

Residents of Sinai, who complain they have long been neglected by the state, say they rely on smuggling trade through the tunnels for their living and the creation of the buffer zone has stoked resentment. Egyptian authorities see them as a threat and regularly destroy them.

Militant violence in Sinai has surged since the army ousted Morsi, a Brotherhood official in July 2013. Egypt has launched a crackdown on the group, jailing thousands of its members and labeling it a terrorist organisation.

The Brotherhood says it is peaceful and condemned last month's attacks.

But Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, a militant group that has sworn allegiance to Islamic State, has stepped up attacks on police and soldiers in Sinai and released a video this month in which it purported to claim that it was behind the Oct. 24 attack.

Reporting by Mahmoud Mourad, editing by Lin Noueihed

Hamas claims responsibility for large terror tunnel


Hamas claimed responsibility for a terror tunnel dug between Gaza and Israel.

A spokesman for Hamas’ military wing said Sunday during an interview on one of the terrorist movement’s radio stations that the group was responsible for building and maintaining the tunnel, Reuters reported.

The 1.5-mile-long tunnel began in the Absan village located between Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip and the Gaza border fence and had more than one exit point in and around Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha, including near a kindergarten, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

It is believed to have been constructed to kidnap civilians and soldiers, or to infiltrate the community and carry out a terror attack.

The Hamas spokesman said the tunnel had been dug in an effort to force Israel to release some of the thousands of Palestinians in Israeli jails. Former Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was captured and brought into Gaza through such a tunnel in 2006. More than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners were released in a prisoner exchange for Shalit.

The tunnel was reinforced with steel and cement provided by Israel to build public buildings in Gaza, which Israel had been withholding as part of its blockade of the Gaza Strip. Israel allowed the delivery to resume in 2010.

Israel finds tunnel dug under its Gaza border, blames Hamas


Israel displayed on Sunday what it called a Palestinian “terror tunnel” running into its territory from the Gaza Strip and said it was subsequently freezing the transfer of building material to the enclave.

“The discovery of the tunnel … prevented attempts to harm Israeli civilians who live close to the border and military forces in the area,” Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said in a statement, accusing Gaza's ruling Hamas Islamist movement of being behind construction of the 1.5 mile-long tunnel.

There was no claim of responsibility in Gaza but a spokesman for Hamas's armed wing wrote on Twitter that “the determination deep in the hearts and minds of resistance fighters is more important than tunnels dug in the mud”.

Hamas, along with other militant groups, tunneled into Israel in 2006 and seized an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, who was held for five years before being exchanged for 1,400 Palestinians in Israeli jails.

The Israeli military said it found the tunnel along its fortified Gaza border last week near a kibbutz, or communal farm. It invited journalists to view it on Sunday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who launched an eight-day war against militants in the Gaza Strip last November with the declared aim of curbing rocket attacks against Israel, publicly congratulated the army “for uncovering the terror tunnel”.

The military said the tunnel, dug in sandy soil, had been reinforced with concrete supports, and Yaalon announced that he was immediately halting the transfer of building material to the Gaza Strip.

For years, Israel had refused to allow these goods into the territory because it said militants would use them to build fortifications and weapons.

In 2010, as part of its easing of its internationally-criticized Gaza blockade, Israel gave foreign aid organizations the green light to import construction material for public projects. Last month, Israel resumed the transfer of cement and steel to Gaza's private sector.

Hamas seized the Gaza Strip in 2007, a year after winning a Palestinian election, from forces loyal to Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas. The movement is shunned by the West over its refusal to renounce violence and recognize Israel.

Writing by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem, Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Editing by Matthew Tostevin

Israel, Egypt cooperate


The story originally appeared on themedialine.org.

Did an Israeli drone cross into Egyptian airspace over the weekend and fire a rocket at gunmen in the Sinai Peninsula who were about to launch a strike on Israel? Probably. Will any Israeli or Egyptian official admit it, even off the record? Probably not.

The official story coming out of Egypt is that it was the Egyptian military that attacked Jihadists in Sinai, killing five. The Egyptian army, which is presently controlling Egypt after Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi was forced from office, is wary of being seen as too close to Israel and the United States.

Asked whether Israel was behind the attack, Egyptian military spokesman Col. Ahmed Ali declined to comment directly.

“There is an obligation between the two countries to coordinate attacks and inform each other of activities they conduct in Sinai due to the peace accords,” Ali said, referring to the historic treaty of 1979. 

An Israeli military spokesman sounded similarly opaque.

“The IDF [Israel Defense Forces] and the Egyptian military maintain ongoing security coordination in order to contend with mutual threats,” Capt. Eytan Buchmann said.

Egyptian military analysts said it was likely that Israel was behind the strike.

“There is a lot of confusion about who attacked the terrorists. The Israelis say they did it and the Egyptians say they did it,” retired Egyptian Gen. Fathi Ali said. “I believe the Israelis did it but with Egyptian coordination. You need people on the ground to call in the coordinates of locations where terrorists are.”

There is widespread security coordination between Israel and Egypt that is increasingly important to their mutual interests.

“This cooperation is vital to both sides,” Eitan Shamir, a professor of political studies at Bar-Ilan University said. “Both Israel and Egypt are concerned about the situation in the Sinai [peninsula] and neither country wants instability. They both have an interest in having quiet along their border.”

In the past few days, Egypt has embarked on a campaign against terrorist groups in the Sinai. Egyptian soldiers have destroyed hundreds of tunnels used for smuggling goods and weapons between Egypt and Gaza, and is launching attacks similar to the drone strike over the weekend that was originally attributed to Israel and is now being credited to an Egyptian military helicopter.

In the past year, Israeli officials have grown increasingly worried about the growth of jihadist elements in Sinai, once a popular tourist destination for Israelis. Last week, Israel even closed down its airport in the Red Sea resort of Eilat for two hours, after a warning from Egypt that a rocket attack from Sinai was imminent. 

Under former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the security ties between the two countries were public and close. The Egyptian intelligence chief visited Israel often and helped mediate cease-fires between Israel and the Islamist Hamas movement, which took over Gaza in 2007.

After the fall of Mubarak and the election of Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi, Israeli officials were concerned that the Egyptian military might back away from its relationship with Israeli security forces. Morsi had close ties with Hamas, which is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Now, after Morsi’s forced removal, the Egyptian army is playing an even more important role in the Arab world’s largest country with 85 million people. Egypt and Jordan are the only two Arab nations that maintain peace treaties with Israel.

“There is a lot of security cooperation, and it’s very important,” an Israeli diplomat said on condition of anonymity. “Egypt is the biggest and most important Arab country. When Egypt sneezes, the Arab world gets a cold. What happens there impacts everywhere.”

Israeli officials are also concerned that if radical groups in Sinai come under enough pressure from Egypt, they could try to attack Israel to divert attention and garner support from other terrorist groups. As the Egyptian crackdown in the Sinai continues, Israeli officials say they expect more attempted attacks, and say that Israeli-Egyptian security coordination is even more important than it has been in the past.

Egypt steps up Gaza tunnel crackdown, dismaying Palestinians


Egypt has intensified a crackdown on smuggling tunnels between its volatile Sinai desert and the Gaza Strip, causing a steep hike in petrol and cement prices in the Palestinian territory.

Palestinians involved in the tunnel business say that the campaign, which began in March and has included flooding of underground passages, was ramped up in the past two weeks before a wave of opposition-led protests in Egypt expected to start on June 30.

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has come under political fire at home over a strong challenge to his authority by militant Islamists in the Sinai who have attacked Egyptian security forces in the peninsula.

Egypt's military, struggling to fill a security vacuum in the Sinai since autocrat Hosni Mubarak was swept from power in 2011, has pledged to shut all tunnels under the Gaza border, saying they are used by militants on both sides to smuggle activists and weapons.

The moves against the tunnels have dashed the hopes of many Palestinians that Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood from which Hamas was born, would significantly ease Egyptian border restrictions on Gaza, which is also subjected to blockade by Israel.

“Business is clinically dead,” said Abu Bassam, who employs 40 workers in a Palestinian tunnel network in Rafah, a town on the border. “Tunnels are almost shut down completely.”

Only 50 to 70 tunnels, out of hundreds that have provided a commercial lifeline for the Gaza Strip, are still open and in partial operation, owners said. Other tunnels are used to smuggle in weapons for militants from Hamas and other groups.

The Egyptian army has sternly warned residents in Sinai not to approach the fence with Gaza and to stop trading through tunnels or face punishment, according to Palestinian tunnel owners who learned about the order from Egyptian counterparts.

“Today we have to pay extra money to convince an Egyptian driver to bring goods to us…, resulting in rising prices of basic materials here,” said Abu Ali, another tunnel owner, standing beside the shaft of his deserted tunnel.

HIGH PRICES

The price of cement in Gaza has soared from 350 shekels ($95) a ton to 800 shekels ($217). Palestinians who bought relatively cheap petrol smuggled from Egypt now have to pay for fuel imported from Israel selling for double the price.

The scene of long queues of vehicles outside petrol stations has become common in past two weeks, with taxi drivers waiting to snap up small quantities of fuel trickling in from tunnels that are still operating.

One tunnel owner, who employs 24 workers, said he was now bringing in 50 tons of food products a day compared with 300 tons two weeks ago.

Many Gaza residents complain they have been without cooking gas for weeks, with tunnel supplies low and imports from Israel scarce.

Ghazi Hamad, deputy foreign minister in the Hamas government, said it understood Mursi's complicated internal situation and would be prepared to close all tunnels if Egypt allowed goods through Rafah, its only Gaza crossing.

At Rafah, where cross-border passenger movement increased significantly soon after Mursi took office, passage has been particularly slow recently and hundreds of people have had to delay their trips.

Egyptian officials cited technical problems.

Israel maintains an overland and sea blockade of the Gaza Strip but has eased some import restrictions in the past several years in the face of international criticism.

It announced on Monday the closure of its only commercial crossing with Gaza until further notice in response to overnight cross-border rocket attacks by Palestinian militants.

Editing by Jeffrey Heller/Mark Heinrich

Egypt-Gaza tunnels must be destroyed, Cairo court says


A Cairo court ruled on Tuesday the government must destroy all tunnels between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, removing a route for smuggled weapons but also a lifeline for Palestinians.

Egypt's ruling Muslim Brotherhood has close ties with the Hamas Islamists that run Gaza, but many Egyptians fear the enclave is a security risk for Egypt. Leftist lawyers said they brought the case with activists to force the government's hand.

President Mohamed Mursi's national security adviser Essam Haddad has said Egypt will not tolerate the two-way flow of smuggled arms through the tunnels that is destabilizing its Sinai peninsula.

Egyptian forces flooded some of the tunnels earlier this month.

“The court ruled to make it obligatory that the government destroys the tunnels between Egypt and the Gaza Strip,” Judge Farid Tanaghou said.

An estimated 30 percent of goods that reach Gaza's 1.7 million Palestinians come through the tunnels, circumventing a blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt for more than seven years.

“I filed the case because I was worried about the state of national security in my country after the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood to power and its unclear policies and links with Hamas,” said Wael Hamdy, a lawyer who brought the case.

He said the case had been brought after 16 Egyptian border guards were killed last August by militants near the Gaza border that highlighted lawlessness in the Sinai desert region adjoining Israel and Gaza.

Cairo said some of the gunmen had entered Egypt through the Gaza tunnels, an accusation denied by the Palestinians. Dozens of tunnels have been destroyed since that incident, but, according to Hamdy, 2,000 are still open.

Reporting by Yasmine Saleh; Editing by David Stamp and Alison Williams

Terror tunnel from Gaza to Israel discovered


Israeli soldiers found the opening of a large tunnel in Israeli territory dug from the Gaza Strip that officials believe is intended for use in terror activity.

The tunnel, which was discovered Monday near Kibbutz Nir Oz during a regular patrol near the border with Gaza, was built to execute terror attacks against Israeli civilians and soldiers, the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement.

“The tunnel, large enough to carry people, is the same kind of tunnel used in 2006 to ambush IDF soldiers & kidnap Gilad Shalit,” the IDF said on its Twitter account.

Shalit, an Israeli soldier, was released by Hamas in October 2011 after more than five years in captivity in exchange for some 1,100 Palestinian prisoners, many of whom reportedly returned to participating in terror activities.

The tunnel was uncovered due to last week's heavy rains throughout the region.

Palestinian terror groups, including Hamas, have called for the kidnapping of more Israeli soldiers in order to exchange them for Palestinians in Israeli jails.

Excavation on Jerusalem tunnel sparks fears of violence


Israeli officials fear the completion of an excavation project near the Temple Mount may spur violence by Palestinians.

The Israel Antiquities Authority announced Tuesday that it had completed the excavation of an ancient tunnel that runs from the City of David in eastern Jerusalem to near the Temple Mount.

Some Palestinians believe the project is an attempt to damage the Al Aksa Mosque; previous archeological projects in the area have led to rioting by Palestinians.

Uzi Dahari, the Israel Antiquities Authority ‘s deputy director, told Israel Radio on Tuesday that there was “no intention of igniting interreligious tensions.”

Travelers making pilgrimages to Jerusalem some 2,000 years ago used the road in the tunnel, according to the authority. It was discovered during excavations on a water channel used for drainage during the Second Temple period.

Work on the tunnel took seven years, including a year’s delay after the Israeli Supreme Court ordered work halted while it considered a petition by residents of the eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan who claimed the dig was damaging their homes. The stop-work order was lifted in September 2009.

The City of David archeological site is located in Silwan and is run by Elad, a settler organization that seeks to expand Jewish presence in all of Jerusalem.

No opening has been made on the tunnel near the Temple Mount, though one is planned, Haaretz reported. The tunnel does not run under the Temple Mount.

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