News Middle East

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Future for Palestinians is bleak with militants at the helm

Con Coughlin

Published 08/08/2014 | 02:30

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A Palestinian man looks on while standing in what remains of his house in part of the northern Beit Hanun district of the Gaza Strip after a 72-hour truce accepted by Israel and Hamas came into effect on August 5, 2014. Israel and Hamas said they have agreed a new 72-hour truce, after increasingly vocal international demands for a ceasefire in the bloody 29-day-old Gaza conflict. AFP PHOTO/MARCO LONGARI        (Photo credit should read MARCO LONGARI/AFP/Getty Images)
A Palestinian man looks on while standing in what remains of his house in part of the northern Beit Hanun district of the Gaza Strip after a 72-hour truce accepted by Israel and Hamas came into effect on August 5, 2014. Israel and Hamas said they have agreed a new 72-hour truce, after increasingly vocal international demands for a ceasefire in the bloody 29-day-old Gaza conflict. AFP PHOTO/MARCO LONGARI (Photo credit should read MARCO LONGARI/AFP/Getty Images)

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.

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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 Forces, 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.

This would certainly explain why Israeli military officials are now reporting that the tunnels, apart from storing large numbers of missiles and heavy explosives, were 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".

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 killing an estimated 900 Hamas militants - it stands precious little chance of winning the propaganda war.

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.

Why has Hamas 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?

As for Gaza's immediate future, the omens are depressingly bleak, particularly while Hamas remains the dominant political force.

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.

Irish Independent

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