Israel Has Won One War, But Lost the PR Battle
By Con Coughlin | Published: 13th August 2014 06:00 AM |
Now that we have had a brief respite in the latest round of hostilities between Israel and Hamas, the true extent of the threat posed to Israel’s security by the extensive network of underground tunnels built under Gaza during the past five years is becoming abundantly clear.
Leaders of the militant Palestinian organisation would like the outside world to believe their tunnels were built for humanitarian reasons, as a means to circumventing Israel’s long-standing blockade of the Gaza Strip.
The Israelis, for their part, insist the controls are essential for preventing arms being shipped to Gaza for use against Jewish neighbourhoods.
But when you examine the impressive scale of the network of tunnels, the location and the equipment stored in them, it is hard not to sympathise with Israel. For, far from being a conduit for smuggling bags of rice and medical supplies to needy Palestinians, it is clear that they have been constructed with a far more sinister purpose in mind.
According to intelligence assessments now being compiled by the Israeli Defence Force, Hamas has spent tens of millions of dollars building the tunnels with one aim in mind — to launch a massive assault around next month’s Jewish new year.
One Israeli officer has compared the complexity of the tunnel network to the London Underground; some are even wide enough to allow vehicles to drive through. Many of them, furthermore, extend far beyond the Gazan border into Israel proper. Captured Hamas fighters have provided details of the planned September 24 assault when militants intend to attack Jewish communities and capture as many Israelis as possible.
This would certainly explain why Israeli military officials are now reporting that the tunnels, apart from storing large numbers of missiles and heavy explosives, are also stocked with tranquillisers, handcuffs, syringes, ropes and all the other paraphernalia used for dealing with captives. The other feature of Hamas’s uncompromising strategy that has emerged in the aftermath of Operation Protective Edge is the organisation’s readiness to use Palestinian civilians as human shields. Israeli military officials claim to have recovered a Hamas manual on urban warfare that extols the benefits of civilian deaths, arguing that “the destruction of civilian homes increases the hatred of the citizens towards the attackers”.
Israel’s claims seem to have been verified by several journalists reporting on the conflict from Gaza, with one reporting that he had seen two Hamas rockets fired from the vicinity of al-Shifa hospital, scene of some of the fiercest fighting.
As an Israeli official commented, “Hamas uses the Palestinian population as human shields. Hamas’s strategy is to intensify the suffering of Gazans, based on the belief that Israel is to be blamed.”
To judge by the general tenor of global reaction to the conflict, it would be fair to conclude that while Israel has unquestionably won the military campaign — it has completely destroyed the tunnel network as well as killed an estimated 900 Hamas militants — it stands precious little chance of winning the propaganda war. On that front Hamas is the undisputed winner. The resignation of Baroness Warsi as a junior Foreign Office minister this week, in protest at the Coalition’s failure to condemn Israel’s assault on Gaza, is the most high profile example of the deep antipathy that has been generated around the world over what is regarded as Israel’s immoral conduct.
But while no one can condone the appalling loss of life and suffering of Palestinian civilians during the past month, the damning evidence concerning Hamas’s plans to attack Israel, as well as its cavalier attitude towards the safety of its people, certainly places events in a different context.
Rather than confining her indignation to Israel’s “morally indefensible” conduct, Warsi should also be asking why Hamas has devoted so much of its limited financial resources to building a new military infrastructure rather than improving the lot of Gaza’s impoverished and needy civilian population.
Moreover, where did Hamas get the money and munitions to launch its offensive in the first place?
The tiny Gulf state of Qatar, which seems to have a stake in many of the region’s less appealing Islamist militant groups, is now one of Hamas’s primary donors, while a recent rapprochement between the movement and Tehran could soon see a resumption of Iranian arms shipments.
As for Gaza’s immediate future following another devastating Israeli military onslaught, the omens are depressingly bleak, particularly while Hamas remains the dominant political force. The massive tunnel infrastructure, remember, was built at a time when Israel and the Palestinians were supposed to be engaged in peace talks aimed at ending decades of hostility. Realistically, there can be no real prospect of ordinary Palestinians making a better life for themselves as long as the strongmen of Hamas are in control.