Few envy the painful decisions that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be obliged to make in the months to come.
He faces grave challenges that impact on the life and death of Israelis. The current wave of Palestinian terror seems to be escalating from stabbings to shootings and there is considerable concern that the Palestinian Authority may well implode, which would lead to even greater chaos.
Hezbollah has thousands of rockets poised toward us but, for the time being, is diverted by its bitter battles in Syria on behalf of its Iranian patron.
Diplomatically, at least until after the U.S. elections, we face a hostile environment as the Obama administration signals its contempt for the Israeli government and while the Europeans seem willing to abandon us and even impose sanctions against us.
Despite the barbaric behavior of our neighbors and the criminal Palestinian society, and being aware that the Palestinians remain utterly committed to an end of Jewish sovereignty, the Europeans continue pressing Israel to make further unilateral concessions.
But the most urgent issue today is how to respond to Hamas, which, unlike the duplicitous Palestinian Authority, loudly spells out its genocidal objectives. It has always bitterly rejected any negotiation and made it abundantly clear that its ultimate mission — “no matter how long it takes” — is to “fight the Jews and kill them” and to replace the Jewish state with an Islamic caliphate.
Article 7 of the Hamas Charter is explicit: “The Islamic Resistance Movement aspires to realize the promise of Allah, no matter how long it takes. The Prophet, Allah’s prayer and peace be upon him, says: ‘The hour of judgment shall not come until the Muslims fight the Jews and kill them, so that the Jews hide behind trees and stones, and each tree and stone will say: “Oh Muslim, oh servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him,” except for the Gharqad tree, for it is the tree of the Jews.’”
In recent months, Hamas has repeatedly proclaimed that it is resurrecting its army with the intention of liberating and imposing Shariah law on all of “Palestine.” Its leaders continuously exhort their followers to kill Jews and hold celebrations every time an Israeli civilian has been killed by one of their crazed supporters. It is brainwashing its young children into becoming “martyrs” in forthcoming battles against Jews, stressing that these are not defensive actions but preparations for a new military confrontation against Israel at a time of its choosing.
Hamas has desperately sought to import and manufacture missiles to replenish its inventory from losses accrued during the last war. Israel maintains that it can and will eliminate these missiles if required.
But far more disconcerting are Hamas’ recent frenzied efforts to reconstruct the tunnels destroyed by the Israel Defense Forces during the last war, in addition to creating new ones. The pounding of drills as the tunnels reach (and possibly even traverse) Israel territory is understandably alarming for Israelis living near these areas.
There is no way that these tunnels leading to Israeli territory could be construed as being defensive. Indeed, Hamas leaders do not conceal their intentions. Their spokesmen have stated that a number of tunnels have already penetrated deep into Israeli territory and repeatedly boast publicly that they will be used to invade Israel and at the very least to kill or kidnap Israeli civilians who would become hostages to leverage concessions such as the release of mass murderers. Subsequent occasional reassurances that they seek to retain the cease-fire with Israel and are not preparing for another war are hardly convincing.
From evidence disclosed by Hamas, these new tunnels are far more sophisticated and advanced than those destroyed by Israel. It is also clear that desperately needed building materials provided by foreign aid to rebuild homes for Gaza citizens has and is being siphoned by Hamas for this tunnel construction. There seems to be a frenzied urgency to complete the project speedily, as is attested by the number of Hamas leaders and activists recently killed during construction accidents.
This poses a very serious threat. Hamas may have learned lessons from its failed efforts to infiltrate into Israel via tunnels during the last war. Should they, God forbid, succeed in sending hundreds of suicidal terrorists into Israel through tunnels, they could wreak immense damage and bloodshed before elimination by the IDF.
I am not privy to military intelligence. But from all the “reassuring” government statements, it would appear that despite our extraordinary technological achievements including the Iron Dome, we have not yet devised the means of identifying or locating the tunnels.
After the last war, the IDF declared that it would intervene militarily if Hamas resumed the tunnel project. These were clearly empty words that failed to deter Hamas, which has the chutzpah to engage in tunnel construction 500 meters from the border, in plain sight of the IDF.
Does that mean that we simply stand by and await an impending attack that would take place at a time chosen by the terrorists?
Ironically, Opposition Leader MK Isaac Herzog, backed by his partner, MK Tzipi Livni, has emerged as a hawk on this issue and castigated the government for not responding. Herzog warned: “Why are we waiting for terrorists with drawn weapons to emerge in a kibbutz or moshav? … The political leadership must stop hesitating … and instruct the IDF to bomb the tunnels and destroy this threat. … One day, we will wake up and discover that once again, we underestimated the seriousness of the threat. … It will cost us in blood and terrible sorrow.”
Herzog is on solid ground in uttering such warnings. What country would stand idly while its neighbor constructed tunnels to penetrate its borders with suicidal terrorists whose objective was to kill as many civilians as possible?
Netanyahu is aware of this. However, having regard for the international situation and the almost certain condemnation by the U.S. if Israel were to take pre-emptive action to destroy the tunnels, he is fearful that in the present climate, this could lead to a U.N. Security Council condemnation, accompanied by sanctions from which the U.S. would abstain.
While acknowledging these concerns, we should recall how our pre-emptive action resulted in the dazzling victory of the Six-Day War and conversely, how our fear of antagonizing our friends by firing the first shot led to the disaster of the Yom Kippur War.
There is no doubt that we will be condemned if we take pre-emptive action. But a government’s prime responsibility is to protect its citizens. To wait for these frenzied killers to indulge in a murder spree against us before reacting is utterly untenable. Besides, despite the inevitable howls against us for defending ourselves, the current chaos in the Middle East and the war against ISIS make this as good a time as any to deal with the threat.
What is needed is a short, sharp global public campaign directed toward governments, highlighting the threat to our citizens, backed by evidence and public statements from Hamas. We should clearly state that unless the terror tunnels constructed with the intention of penetrating our borders are closed and future tunneling brought to a halt, Israel will have no choice other than pre-emptive steps to secure its borders and protect the lives of its citizens. Besides, we can relate to a precedent. The Egyptians overcame their problem of Hamas tunnels, which were used to smuggle arms to Islamic terrorists in the Sinai Peninsula, by digging deep ditches and periodically flooding them with sea water.
Israel does not seek another war, but to stand idly while the enemy boasts of its murderous intentions is utterly irresponsible and simply procrastinating may subsequently lead to far greater casualties.
This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom