J.J. Goldberg

Gaza Tunnels: How They Work, What Israel Knew

By J.J. Goldberg


In my last post I promised to translate Alex Fishman’s Friday column in Yediot Ahronot discussing Hamas’s tunnels. Here it is.

He briefly traces Israel’s growing awareness of the problem over more than a decade. He reaches much the same conclusion as Nahum Barnea: “…the fact is that everyone saw, everyone knew, everyone understood, and yet the test of results ended in failure…”

There’s a lively debate right now in the Hebrew press over whether or not Israel realized the full extent of the threat. That is, given that the threat’s existence was long known, is there any truth to the claim that Israel was “surprised”? I’ve got some links below to follow the debate if your Hebrew is up to it. It can’t be understated how misleading the English-language reporting on the topic has been; more on that below, after the translation.

Both Barnea and Fishman conclude, as my translations show, that the IDF and government knew enough to grasp the full dimensions of the threat, if not the details of every tunnel, long before this operation. Whether or not they’re right will be determined soon enough, as Harel writes. I generally read Barnea and Fishman first because they’re commonly described as the best informed, best connected and smartest in the field in Israel — Barnea in political analysis, Fishman in reporting from inside the mind of the military. Unfortunately, Yediot doesn’t publish on line — its Ynet site is a fully separate publication — and doesn’t translate its print material into English. My translations are as literal as I can make them.

I’ve often heard friends and readers in the last few weeks expressing bewilderment that the IDF had such a hard time finding technology to locate tunnels or detect excavation in real time. Fishman wrote about that a few weeks ago. His basic thrust was that normal sensor equipment is only effective down to about 10 meters, and Hamas attack tunnels are around 25 meters down. And the sophisticated equipment used for oil and gas exploration is too sensitive for concrete structures just 25 meters down — they’re looking for tiny signals from miles down, and closer to the surface they tend to go off whenever a truck goes by.

Anyway, here’s Fishman:

Damaging the National Project

On Wednesday this week the defense minister returned to the Gaza Strip to examine the destruction of the tunnels. When he was at the headquarters of the division in charge of cleaning out Seja’iyeh, fire opened up from the windows of Wafa Hospital, whose patients had been evacuated at the beginning of the week after Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories directly approached the hospital director and asked him to leave. Since then the place had been officially converted into a forward position of the Izz a-Din al-Qassem Brigades.

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After Brussels Bust, France Nabs 'Jihad Recruiters'

By J.J. Goldberg

20 Minutes
Mehdi Nemmouche

French police have arrested four people suspected of recruiting would-be jihadist fighters in Paris and southern France, apparently for training and combat in the Syrian civil war, the British edition of the International Business Times reported today.

The arrests were announced by French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve. They come a day after the announcement on Sunday that French police had arrested a suspect in the May 24 terrorist shootings at the Jewish Museum of Brussels in Belgium.

The suspect in the Brussels attack, a French-born Muslim named Mehdi Nemmouche, is alleged to have received training and combat experience in Syria with a militant anti-Assad insurgent force, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.

Nemmouche’s arrest has touched off fears among European, American and Israeli security officials that the Syrian civil war might be breeding a new generation of young Islamist radicals with Western roots — and Western citizenship — who could return home prepared to carry out new terrorist attacks. Intelligence sources told Haaretz military analyst Amos Harel that an estimated 1,200 European and North American Muslims are fighting with militant groups in Syria at any given time.

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The Flotilla Was a Killer

By J.J. Goldberg

Israel got suckered, the same way it gets suckered over and over. It walks into situations where it will inevitably come out looking like a bully, arouses worldwide anger and then gets indignant when it’s condemned. It’s like watching Charlie Brown charge the football, knowing that Lucy will snatch it away as she always does.

Here’s how Haaretz intelligence maven Yossi Melman summed it up:

Time and again, Israel tries to prove that what can’t be solved by force can be solved by more force. Over and over, the policies of force fail. The problem is that with each failure, the part of the world in which we would like to belong is losing patience with us.

As for the bloodshed at sea, the verdict isn’t so clear cut, and it’s important to draw a clear line between the boneheaded thinking of the Israeli government that walked into this situation and the actions of the Israeli troops who were sent into action. Israel had made it plain that it intended to stop the convoy by force if necessary, which is how naval blockades work for better or (mostly) worse, so the passengers had a pretty good idea of what to expect. On the other hand, the convoy had presented itself as a humanitarian mission of peace activists, suggesting that the Israeli boarding party could expect to find the passengers holding hands and singing “We Shall Overcome.” Opening fire would be senseless. That, of course, is the scenario that’s captured the world’s imagination and ire.

But that’s not how it turned out. The Israeli commandos came rappelling down from a helicopter one by one and were greeted with knives and iron bars. In case you’ve missed it, here’s what it looked like:

You could call that lots of things, but nonviolent resistance and peace activism don’t spring to mind. Gandhi and King taught that you take the blows of the oppressor and never fight back, and by your moral example you awaken the humanity of the other side. They never said anything about whacking the crap out of them.

Yediot Ahronot military columnist Ron Ben-Yishai wrote a blow-by-blow from the troops’ perspective.

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