Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The 'Terror Tunnels'

As we know, Israel's initial call for revenge against Palestinians in the current crisis was prompted by the kidnapping and killing of three teens in June, but soon there were doubts raised (even by some Israelis) that Hamas directed that.  Then they highlighted Hamas firing rockets over and into Israel, but they've stressed that less often since flights started getting cancelled and tourism suffered.  They criticized what the U.S. media calls the "terror tunnels" built by Hamas over the years, but this has become the primary, oft-cited cause for the ground and air attacks in the past two weeks.  U.S. media have dutifully taken tours of exposed tunnels and filed scare reports, such as the ones on CNN on Monday.

No doubt Israel is right to be concerned about these tunnels. Several of its soldiers were killed just this week by militants emerging from one of them.  No one would object to them destroying them along their border.  Egypt has somehow destroyed as many as 1000 of them at its border used for smuggling goods (but without killing many Gazans).  The reason I raise this is:  The tunnels are being used as a pretext for mass slaughter--and accepted or promoted as much by U.S. media.   So the threat from them to a civilian population, especially before Israel escalated the war, must be proven and very clear.

The use of "terror" or "terrorism" connotes attacks on civilians.  But have these tunnels only been used for military operations?

Yet the IDF and the media never seem to get around to listing what (you'd think) must be a large number of "terror" incidents and Israelis killed or kidnapped in recent years. A good example was yesterday's report by Jodi Rudoren in the New York Times--quite lengthy but without a single reference to a deadly "terror" attack via the tunnels until the past two weeks of armed conflict.  Like others, she explains that Israel has known about the tunnels for many years yet did not attempt to destroy many of them until this month.  Why?  Because they actually posed less of a threat to civilians than now claimed?  Israelis in the south are always quoted about their fears of militants rising out of the ground in their backyards (one tells Rudoren, "It takes us a little bit to our childhood fairy tales of demons"), but--how many times has this happened?

In that regard, an article this week in the Times of Israel quotes a senior Israeli intelligence officer asserting that the tunnels did not really threaten civilians--Hamas aims for another spectacular soldier kidnapping or killing.  (The Shalit snatching led to freedom for 1000 Palestinians in the prisoner exchange.)  This intel source points out that in the major tunnel incursion last week the militants could have easily invaded a nearby kibbutz but set off to kill soldiers instead.  They did it again this week.  But using tunnels for military attacks in war has long been an accepted battlefield tactic. It's not "terrorism."

Israelis now seek a broad inquiry into why their officials and military did not take broad action against the tunnels until now.  Was it because they didn't think they were such a huge threat? And now they describe finding dozens of tunnels and a wider network--but is anyone in U.S. media questioning what exactly these newly-found tunnels represent?  They take guided tours of a couple carefully selected--including one unfinished, another uncovered two years ago--but they have to take the word (and do) of the IDF in describing the other tunnels and any weapons/explosives found in them.  Were most of them abandoned years ago? Flooded and not really useable, as Hamas claims?

All this caused me to ask, via Twitter, for anyone to send me a link to a credible history with this information.  I got no replies beyond, "Good luck with that."  I raised this with Jake Tapper of CNN, who had just done his "terror tunnel" report on Twitter, since he had tweeted about Hamas "exporting death."  Well, how many deaths, before this month's Israel invasion of Gaza, in the past ten years since the tunnels were expanded?  Tapper tells me today that he knows of only six deaths from the tunnels, all IDF.  I've seen an Israeli source claim 10 soldiers.  If that's all, then more Israelis have been killed in the past week because of the tunnels, and the Israeli offensive, than in the previous decade combined.

Always cited is the 2006 kidnapping of Israeli soldier Shalit, which became a cause celebre until a prisoner swap not long ago.  Since it got such massive and long-lasting attention I presume it was the one and only such case.  Then there was some sort of militants' plan to blow up explosives along the border in the south.  Another thwarted attack on a village years ago.  But that's about all I can find easily.  This fairly detailed history from the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, no less, is typical in failing to offer more than three or four examples.  Ditto for a lengthy recent Wash Post piece.  Mike Calderone at Huff Post links to my assessment in a wrap-up there but like virtually every other U.S. journo fails to mention the key fact: Not a single Israeli civilian ever killed because of one of the tunnels.

So why have U.S. media gone along with promoting this as a justification for killing 1000 civilians, including 200 kids, far from the border? 

P.S.   I have been live-blogging this crisis for the past week, and here's today's.

Greg Mitchell, the longtime editor of Editor & Publisher, has written dozens of books relating to the war in Iraq, the atomic bombings of Japan, famous U.S. political campaigns, the death penalty and WikiLeaks, among other subjects.  

8 comments:

Peter Vasdi said...

When you"re blockaded, what other choice do you have? When your land and resources are being confiscated progressively, what other choice do you have?

Ken Houghton said...

Your PS source is also, iirc, the source of the "100 children killed" canard that Bob Sheiffer repeated yesterday.

Anonymous said...

At least 3 of the tunnels found have exit holes inside Israeli agricultural communes, one of them inside the communal dining room! How is that supposed to target soldiers? Also, Israel claims that the captured Hamas militants spoke of a plan to have a coordinated terror attack against civilians in the upcoming Jewish new year. The Hamas is also clearly firing rockets and missiles at civilian targets, so hard to argue that they are respecters of civilian life.
Finally, an equally important (and perhaps primary) reason for the war in Gaza is that fact that a terrorist organization is firing missiles into civilian centers in a neighboring country! Is this somehow OK? Should Israel not respond to this? If so, then how exactly.

Anonymous said...

Ummm...is it ok then to respond to unsophisticated rockets that are easily innoculated by Iron Dome with a nuclear bomb? With concentration camps? By killing all residents of Gaza? The flaw in the "should Israel not respond to this?" question is that it implies no limits. But clearly, rockets of little sophistication that cause anxiety but no death should not be responded to by killing innocent children and civilians. 53 Israelis have died in this conflict. Of those, 3 were civilians (and of those one was supplying the IDF when he was killed). Over 1100 Palestinians have died, three quarters of which were civilians, including 200 children. In what world does killing 800+ people and 200 children constitute an acceptable response to the killing of 3 people at the height of the rocket threat?

Palestinians have been occupied and marginalized by Israel for half a century. Should they also not respond to that? Well, sure, but not by killing Israeli kids and civilians. Not by using a dirty bomb.

There are limits to even what Israel is allowed to do. We live in what is supposed to be a civilized world. We ought to act like it.

Anonymous said...

Just bought two of your books. Thanks much for all your reporting.

Anonymous said...

It is easy to minimize the threat posed by Hamas by referring to Iron Dome (see comment above), but reality is each time there is an alert, people must go running to the nearest bomb shelter. That is not a tenable situation, nor one that can be maintained for very long. All it will take is one Dome failure for there to be significant civilian casualties.

As for the tunnels, yes, they've been around for a while, but their extent was NOT known. That is why they've started to assume a larger place in the conversation since the conflict began.

Anonymous said...

Palestinians are a political football for the Arab world. They should have been taken into the surrounding countries 50 years ago the way the Israelis took in their own when they were being persecuted and run out of Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and Egypt. The leaders of these countries have the blood of these people on their hands. Hamas seeks the destruction of Israel with no compromise, it says it in their charter. Palestinians have elected these people to lead them. What are the Israelis to do? I hear the media talking of all the "dead children", clearly an attempt to sensationalize, and demonizing the Israelis. But, has anyone asked why do the Palestinians continue to keep their children in a war zone? There are areas not under attack. They can't possibly want peace when they choose Hamas as their leaders.

Anonymous said...

This is what I call journalism. Most of the other stuff I reading and hearing from the major news sources is nothing short of propaganda. Sadly their propaganda promotes the slaughter of innocent men, women, and children. Without any factual knowledge, I would bet that the built so that the oppressed people of Palestine could have means getting essentials into their communities. The Israeli's want to destroy them in efforts of tightening the stranglehold, on Palestine. They want to squeeze until there is no more life in them. What else do call destroying schools and hospitals and sources for essentials. Obama is a hypocrite.
Crimean citizens have the right to live outside of fear and oppression but not Palestinians. And spear that terrorism BS. The Israeli's have made a mockery of that word. They watered it down to mean the same as enemy. The only side killing women and children and "TERRORIZING" the innocent are the Israeli's. As matter of fact the Israeli people feel so safe that have take their lawn chairs and get as close to the murdering as possible and cheer. That doesn't sound to me like a group being terrorized.