Tuesday, July 29, 2014
The 'Terror Tunnels'
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.