Gaza Tunnels Key In Gauging Success


Israel’s 22-day military offensive against Hamas not only stopped the persistent rocket fire on Israeli towns but may also succeed in preventing Hamas from rearming, according to several Israeli officials and analysts.

But there are those who are less optimistic, and the campaign has been criticized by some as excessive in the human toll it took and by others for not going far enough to dismantle Hamas.

“All of the international community will help Egypt try to stop the smuggling of weapons from Iran,” said Asaf Shariv, Israel’s consul general in New York. “And German and French ships will try to stop [Iranian ships carrying weapons to Hamas]. It will make [Iran’s] life a lot harder [to smuggle in weapons to the Gaza Strip].”

Skeptics, though, believe that too much depends on Egypt, which had done little to prevent smuggling of weapons through the tunnels until now. Cairo fears Hamas for its militancy but is wary of offending Egyptian masses, who empathize with the Gazans.

But Gerald Steinberg, a political science professor at Bar-Ilan University, seemed hopeful. He said the international effort to stop the arms smuggling would give Israel a green light in any future action it takes to prevent Hamas from rearming.

“You have to be skeptical about the Europeans doing anything but talk,” he said. “It’s Israel that is going to have to carry the load. But it would now be difficult for the Europeans or the Obama administration to scold Israel if the Israel Defense Forces had to attack ships or trucks or any other movement of weapons into Gaza. They all signed on and said it is an important objective.”

Many analysts believe that Israel’s primary achievement was re-establishing its reputation for deterrence, proving its willingness to strike back forcefully at a terror group that has initiated violence against its citizens.

And while some question whether the Israeli response was too harsh, the great majority of the state’s citizens supported the effort, indicating empathy for innocents killed but not guilt. They blame Hamas for the resulting deaths of civilians in Gaza.

Although he believes Israel won militarily, Tom Dine, a consultant with the Israel Policy Forum who is engaged in back channel peace talks with Syria, said he was in Syria two days before Israel declared a cease-fire Sunday and found that “people were very angry and very concerned as they watched al Jazeera show the same shots over and over [of the destruction].” he said. “It rattles the Arab mind and you can understand that.”

Preliminary reports from Palestinian agencies said about 1,300 Palestinians were killed — many of them women and children. Thirteen Israelis were killed, three of them civilians.

Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, a gynecologist who works at hospitals in both Israel and Gaza, where he lives, and who lost three daughters and a niece in the fighting, said he believed the war “was a waste of time, lives and money.”

“I think it was futile,” he told The Jewish Week in a telephone interview from Gaza. “It didn’t bring about anything except more animosity [towards Israel] and more bloodshed. That’s what happened. Nothing else. And anyone who says something else is deceiving himself, not others.”

He said Hamas may have lost on the political level because it “lost the international community, but militarily they were not much affected because on the last day of the war they were still firing rockets.”
Israeli media reports quote the Israeli military as saying that perhaps 80 percent of the estimated 300 tunnels used to smuggle arms to Gaza from Egypt were destroyed during the war. But within hours after the shooting stopped, the remaining tunnels were said to be active again.

The death of Abuelaish’s niece and three daughters was made real for viewers of Israel’s Channel 10 Friday night when Abuelaish called a reporter he knew at the station and screamed into the phone: “My girls, oh God, they’ve killed my girls.”

The reporter, who was on the air at the time, put his cell phone next to his microphone so the audience could hear Abuelaish’s anguished cries. The reporter then rushed from the studio and made some calls to arrange for Abuelaish to rush another daughter and niece who had been critically injured to Tel Hashomer, the Israeli hospital where Abuelaish works.

“I want to continue working with my colleagues in Israel,” he said by phone Tuesday. “A number of people are coming to see me [here] – friends and colleagues. People I don’t even know have stopped me to express their sadness that this happened to us. This has given me support. … Some people think the voice of peace has been assassinated, but they have made a mistake. It is stronger.”

Initial reports said Israeli artillery fire may have killed and injured the children, but Steinberg said there were other reports indicating that it might have been Hamas fire that struck them.

Mona Abramson, the former executive director of the American Friends of Soroka Medical Center where Abuelaish had worked, said Abuelaish is well known to her organization’s supporters here.

“He spoke for us at our events and spoke of the importance of peace between Jews and Arabs, using medicine as a bridge for peace,” she said. “He pointed out that many Israeli hospitals treat Palestinian patients.”

David Makovsky, a senior fellow and director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process at the Washington Institute, said many questions remain unanswered and that it is too early to completely judge the war.

“Clearly the humanitarian dimension needs to be assessed,” he said. “But I think Israel believes there are some elements where it achieved some success. First it clearly degraded Hamas’ missile capability. Second, it renewed international attention to the need for the interdiction of missiles [being smuggled into Gaza]. But a third dimension is subject to proof in the coming weeks and months — will the Palestinian Authority that was unceremoniously expelled from Gaza in June 2007 regain a foothold there?”

Although Western nations want to see Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his prime minister, Salem Fayyad, “become the primary actors in the reconstruction of Gaza” in order to weaken Hamas, it is unclear whether that will happen.

“This will be a yardstick that will test the success of the operation,” Makovsky said.