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An Israeli military action this week to destroy a newly-discovered tunnel from Gaza to an Israeli village reminds us of the serious security threat that Israelis continue to face from Palestinian groups in the Gaza Strip still dedicated to the destruction of Israel.
The Israeli army blew up the tunnel early Monday, detonating it from within Israel using as-yet unidentified “advanced technology,” according to a statement made by the army. It led from Gaza nearly to the Israeli village of Kissufim, which is a kibbutz adjacent to the border.
Israelis and Gazans heard massive booms as the tunnel collapsed on itself, killing eight militants, including Islamic Jihad commander Arafat abu Murshid and one of his deputies. Also among the dead were two Hamas operatives, who, according to unconfirmed Palestinian reports, arrived to aid the Islamic Jihad fighters.
We also learned this week that a second Gaza tunnel was found on October 15 by the United Nations at a school it operates under the auspices of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, or UNRWA.
The fact that this happened at a time when Hamas, which controls Gaza, and the Palestinian Authority, led by President Mahmoud Abbas, are trying to hammer out the terms of a “reconciliation agreement,” shows how complex the situation within the Palestinian community has become.
I saw first-hand what these tunnels look like on a recent visit to an IDF base with J Street’s Congressional and Leadership Delegation. The Israeli army has built a mock-up of a tunnel to demonstrate the level of technological sophistication that goes into constructing them.
One cannot walk through the tunnel and emerge unmoved. There should be no mistaking the fact that the tunnel threat is real. We should assume that there are many other tunnels planned, under construction or already operational, that Israel does not yet know about.
Tragically, the population of Gaza, trapped in their narrow strip of densely-populated land, are the ultimate victims of this conflict. They pay the highest price when tensions between Israel and Hamas erupt into open warfare — as they have several times in recent years, most recently in a 49-day mini-war in 2014 that took the lives of 73 Israelis and 2,251 Palestinians. It would also appear that Hamas is more interested in rebuilding its military capability than investing in desperately-needed civilian reconstruction.
Hamas has agreed to cede a degree of civilian authority in Gaza to the PA — but has resisted pressure to give up control of its military assets. That would ensure that it remains the real power in the Strip.
Responding to the Israeli action, the Palestinian Authority issued contradictory signals on Monday. Fatah condemned Israel’s attack on the Gaza tunnel, saying “perpetrators of these crimes won’t escape trial.”
At the same time, President Abbas met with some Israeli lawmakers and told them he would appoint Hamas ministers to a unity government only if they recognized the state of Israel, which Hamas clearly at this point does not.
Those are encouraging words and demonstrate yet again that the Israeli security forces can succeed in discovering and destroying tunnels — and we hope they continue to do so — but the only real solution to this problem lies in a peace agreement with the Palestinians based on a two-state solution.