Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed that the Gaza Strip tunnels must be destroyed even if a cease-fire is agreed upon, but the time it will take to complete that objective will prolong the conflict. Destruction of the tunnels is not negotiable according to the Prime Minister.
In his estimation, Netanyahu said it would take several more days to complete that task. Their destruction is vital to the security of Israel. Destroying the tunnels could, potentially, widen the ground objective, as Israel has called up an additional 16,000 reservists that will assist in the effort and relieve troops already deployed in Gaza. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry voiced his support to eliminate the tunnel threat, stating that it is unrealistic for any country to have tunnels dug under its border for the express purpose of harming and kidnapping its citizens.
Within Israel there is unprecedented support for Netanyahu and his military campaign. Infiltration through the tunnels and missile attacks must be stopped to ensure Israel’s sovereignty. Recent polls have shown that close to 90 percent of the Israeli Jews supported the Gaza operation and close to 80 percent opposed unilateral withdrawal. Such strong internal support suggests that the conflict could drag on despite international efforts to stop the fighting.
While officials around the world are working for a viable cease-fire accord in the Gaza Strip, the tunnel issue will continue to prolong the conflict. As casualties continue to mount the chances for structuring an agreement become more difficult. It appears that Hamas is in a struggle for its very survival as Israel is intent of destroying the group’s military capabilities and, ultimately, its political power as well.
The Arab-Israeli conflict has been going on for 100 years, with Gaza often being the hotbed. Until 1967 the territory was under Egyptian control when Israel captured the territory during the Six Day War. Israel withdrew its troops in 2006. That was the same year Hamas won a decisive majority in the Palestinian Legislature defeating the PLO backed Fatah party.
Following the elections, the U.S., Russia as well as the UN and the European Union offered assistance on a conditional basis. Hamas was to commit to non-violence, recognize the state of Israel and accept previous agreements that had been previously negotiated. Hamas rejected the proposal.
The internal power struggle between Hamas and Fatah continued and culminated with the 2007 Battle of Gaza. As a result of that battle Hamas gained control of the territory, but its officials were ousted from the West Bank. There have been continuing skirmishes between Hamas and Israel ever since. Israeli ground assaults, preceded by warnings to evacuate, have displaced more than 200,000 civilians.
This latest conflict has escalated to the point where over 1,000 Palestinians, many of them civilians, have lost their lives, and nearly 7,000 have been wounded. Israel has reportedly lost 56 soldiers with more than 400 wounded. The international community is calling for a cease-fire from both parties. Netanyahu is facing intense pressure to discontinue Israel’s military advances so that humanitarian aid can be provided for displaced refugees.
There have been several truce plans proposed which have been tenuous at best. Israel, however, seems intent on ending the Hamas threat once and for all. However, the tunnels along the border of the Gaza Strip must be destroyed according to Netanyahu which will, in itself, prolong the conflict.
By Hans Benes