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The Tunnel Attack that Triggered Israel’s Ground Incursion in Gaza

In the pre-dawn hours of Thursday, July 17th, prior to a five hour UN –negotiated Humanitarian Pause, the IAF intercepted 13 black clothed terrorists emerging from a tunnel near the Shalom Keren frontier with Gaza. Spotted by an armed IAF drone, they quickly scampered back into their tunnel and were promptly dispatched by missiles.  Calm returned with the onset of the Humanitarian Pause holding to 3PM Israel time when with a roar a barrage of more than 130 rockets rained down from Gaza on Southern and Central Israel signaling the end of the Pause.  At 4:52 PM local time, the IDF announced its limited ground incursion with the express purpose of destroying those Gaza tunnels and underground armories containing upwards of 12,000 rockets and missiles. Israel had flooded Gaza with hundreds of thousands of leaflets announcing that civilians should flee targeted areas.  The ground incursion opened with  strikes by IAF F-16s and both naval and IDF bombardment of targets in Gaza. 80 Percent of Gaza was plunged into darkness with the loss of power.

idf soldier with captured weapons in gaza

IDF Soldier with captured Tunnel attack weapons. Source: Times of Israel.

The New York Times reported:

“We will strike Hamas and we are determined to restore peace to the state of Israel,” the military spokesman, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, told reporters in a conference call. “It will progress according to the situation assessment and according to our crafted and designed plan of action to enable us to carry out this mission.”

Israel began to draft 18,000 reservists, adding to 50,000 already mobilized in recent days; Colonel Lerner said the ground forces would include infantry and artillery units, armored and engineer corps, supported by Israel’s “vast intelligence capabilities,” air force and navy.

Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman for Hamas, called the invasion “a dangerous step.”

Israel’s ground incursion in Operation Protective Edge is eerily familiar.  It looks like the continuation of Operation Cast Lead in 2008 and 2009 aborted on President Obama’s inauguration,  January 20, 2009. 22 days passed in that first operation endeavoring to root out Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad rockets hidden in tunnels and underground launching sites by terrorist rocketeers.

Virtually on the heels of Hamas’ takeover following Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from northern Gaza in August 2005, those terror rockets fell on the Eshkol region of the Western Negev using homemade Qassem rockets.  Then over the ensuing nine years the deadly barrages swelled to cover the heavily populated central and northern areas including  Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa. Rockets fell near hotels in the resort area of Eilat on the Red Sea.  Rockets were launched from Lebanon and from Syria on Israel’s North  and the Golan.  But the main threat was the Hamas arsenal in Gaza equipped with locally manufactured M-75, Iranian-supplied longer range Grad, Fajr-5 and Syrian made M-302 rockets with ranges from 10 kilometers to 160 kilometers.  Besides drone, F-16 and helicopter attacks, the only defense against the rain of death from Gaza was the Israeli-developed Iron Dome System.  That was deployed during the eight day Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012 with batteries of Tamir anti-rocket missiles. Those Iron Dome batteries have achieved an impressive 90% interception success rate against rockets intended for populated areas in Israel.  The cease fires with Hamas  that Israel brokered  via Egypt in those previous episodes never achieved the complete destruction of the underground tunnels.   We note that IDF says the removal of Hamas leadership is nor an objective in the current ground incursion.

At the start of Operation Protective Edge it was estimated that Gaza held more than 10 to 12,000 rockets and missiles. As of the start of the ground incursion today, the IDF estimated that it hit more than 2,000 targets , while Hamas  had  launched more than 1,300 rockets at Israel.   Those retaliatory actions by the IDF have resulted in an estimated 250 deaths and 2,500 injuries of both terrorist cadres and civilians in Gaza.  Actions  about which the IDF  warned intended targets with cell phone text messages, leaflets and non-explosive missiles knocking on roofs sending occupants scampering.  However, Hamas security was accused of useing human shields, a war crime. As PM Netanyahu said on a Sunday FoxNews Report on July 13th, “Israel defends its people with missiles, while Hamas defends its missiles with its people.” The Israeli toll prior to the ground incursion was one man killed by a mortar attack at the Northern Erez crossing caught while delivering food to IDF troops. There were reported  elderly heart attack deaths  shrapnel and explosive injuries to both Jewish and Bedouin citizens.

Warnings  of incoming rockets was communicated to Israelis by a new means, a Red Alert app downloaded to iPhones and Android equipped cell phones that pinged every time an incoming rocket was detected heading to their intended targets. Several hundred thousand downloads of the Red Alert app signaled  the threat of incoming rocket and missile barrages that occurred over the 10 days preceding today’s ground incursion in Gaza.

This morning I was co-host with Lisa Benson in a recorded interview with both Jon Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and Shoshana Bryen of the Jewish Policy Center. That interview concerning the status and actors involved in Operation Protective Edge will air on Sunday, July 20, 2014 at 4PM EDT.  Schanzer drew attention to the IAF interception of terrorists caught emerging from a tunnel close by the Shalom Keren crossing.  When queried about whether Israel might unleash its long awaited ground incursion, Schanzer said “all bets were off” meaning that it was increasingly likely.  Bryen  noted that the  US Senate doubled an appropriation funding the Iron Dome System. She  cautioned that even with a high interception  rate there was no guarantee that the few rockets that got through would not result in casualties and damage; witness the fiery hits on factories and gas stations in Sderot and Ashkelon.   Hamas launched an Iran supplied Ababil drone promptly intercepted by a Patriot missile.

See the thwarted tunnel attack that occurred prior to the IDF ground incursion in Gaza:

The Jewish Week noted these comments from  a former IDF spokesperson about the significance of the tunnel attack:

Despite Israel’s aerial and sea assault against Hamas rocket launchers, command and control centers and other visible targets, Israel was unable to get at the network of tunnels that form a virtual underground city in the 25-mile long Gaza Strip.

That became most pronounced just hours before the cease-fire began when 13 Hamas terrorists from the Gaza Strip were spotted emerging from a tunnel inside Israel, according to Miri Eisen, the former Israeli government spokesperson during the Second Lebanon War.

“A woman observer saw them come out of the tunnel and when they heard the sound of a UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle], they ran back into the tunnel and the tunnel was attacked,” she said.

“In the last 10 days we have seen Hamas as a paramilitary organization, now we have seen the transition to a full-scale military, firing rockets and trying to attack Israel from the land, sea and air — and underground,” Eisen said in a conference call organized by The Israel Project. “They are trying to attack Israeli communities that are located around the Gaza Strip.”

[…]

Eisen added: “At the end of the day we’re not sure we actually killed the terrorists, but they dropped all their weapons — 15 antitank missiles and personal Kalashnikovs and ammunition.”

She said they were planning to attack a kibbutz and kidnap an Israeli soldier.

Shades of  Galid Schalit , the former IDF soldier  kidnapped during the Second Lebanon War in 2006  and held in captivity by Hamas for five years until released in exchange for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in October 2011.  One of the demands by Hamas for a cease fire in Operation Protective Edge was the release of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel who participated in Schalit’s kidnapping.

Ms. Eisen’s comment about who was paying for construction of the tunnels and underground armories of Hamas was the subject of an op ed by Steve Emerson of  The Investigative Project just prior to the Israeli ground incursion,  “Hamas-Israel Cease Fire, its déjà vu all over Again”.

Emerson noted:

What happened to President Obama’s promises to Israel, as part of the November 2012 cease-fire agreement, to stop the flow of missiles to Gaza? In two words: Absolutely nothing. … The Obama administration focused its efforts on getting Israel to lift its blockade on steel and concrete, the two major building components of underground tunnels and storage facilities for munitions, on “humanitarian grounds.” Despite the administration’s much ballyhooed November 2012 “cease-fire” agreement that the Obama White House prided itself in bringing an end to the Israeli-Hamas war, somehow Hamas never got the message: From December 2012 to July 1, 2014, Hamas fired nearly 600 missiles into Israel.

Who funded the building of underground armories by Hamas that triggered the IDF current ground incursion? It is the gas rich wealthy emirate of Qatar who provided  over $400 million to ‘restore’ Gaza following the November 2012 Operation Pillar of Defense.  A Qatar noteworthy by its hold on the Administration given its role in filtering arms to Libya to overthrow Qadaffi and into Syria.   Qatar provides a luxurious sanctuary for Hamas leaders and senior Taliban commanders including those released from Guantanamo in exchange for captive Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

There was scrambling in Cairo with separate meetings PA President Abbas, Israeli and Hamas delegations. The difference this time is Egyptian President el-Sisi overthrew former President Morsi who brokered the November 2012 cease fire to save his Muslim Brothers of Hamas in Gaza. This time Egypt blamed Hamas for perpetrating the current IDF operation which might have the potential of destroying those tunnels and sending Hamas leaders to exile in Qatar.

Pray for the save return of IDF service personnel and success of this phase of Operation Protective Edge destroying the terror rockets  and Tunnels of Hamas in Gaza.

Watch this You Tube video MiSheberach Zahal:

[youtube]http://youtu.be/LJEpLklULs0[/youtube]

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared on the New English Review.