We can count on President Obama not to do the right thing and to say the wrong thing. He treats our friends as enemies and our enemies as friends. He says the wrong thing when he would serve our interests by shutting up. He shuts up when saying the right thing would serve our interests.
Earlier today United States Ambassador Dan Shapiro posted a readout of this morning’s call between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu. Here it is:
This morning, I spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel about the situation in Gaza. We discussed Israel’s military operation in Gaza, including its efforts to stop the threat of terrorist infiltration through tunnels into Israel. I reaffirmed my strong support for Israel’s right to defend itself. No nation should accept rockets being fired into its borders, or terrorists tunneling into its territory. In fact, while I was having the conversation with Prime Minister Netanyahu, sirens went off in Tel Aviv.
What do you make of that, bozo? So far so good, but Obama couldn’t leave it at that, of course. He continued:
I also made clear that the United States, and our friends and allies, are deeply concerned about the risks of further escalation and the loss of more innocent life. And that’s why we’ve indicated, although we support military efforts by the Israelis to make sure that rockets are not being fired into their territory, we also have said that our understanding is the current military ground operations are designed to deal with the tunnels, and we are hopeful that Israel will continue to approach this process in a way that minimizes civilian casualties and that all of us are working hard to return to the cease-fire that was reached in November of 2012.
And then we have this…anything but this!
Secretary Kerry is working to support Egypt’s initiative to pursue that outcome. I told Prime Minister Netanyahu that John is prepared to travel to the region following additional consultations.
Unfortunately, we don’t have a readout of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s side of the conversation. I would guess he spoke tactfully, while having some of the following thoughts running through his mind.
Israel is in a struggle with a genocidal enemy whose means of combat are a variety of war crimes. Israel regularly compromises its own operational security to prevent civilian casualties. It has been palpably reluctant to send its forces on the current invasion of Gaza, the casualties of which will be felt a thousandfold inside Israel.
By Obama’s reckoning, however, Israel is not concerned with further escalation and the loss of innocent life. He thinks he needs to counsel Israel publicly to toe the line while its men are in harm’s way. This is a calumny which Obama’s silence could only improve.
Israel’s hand has been forced, however, by Hamas and its tunnels, whose sole purpose is attacks on Israeli civilians (by rockets hidden there or by forces entering Israel through them). Here, courtesy of Omri Ceren of The Israel Project, are a few notes and citations regarding the tunnels:
Hamas has launched multiple attacks into Israel from their offensive tunnels. Last week there was an attempt to land on Zikim beach and launch an attack (http://www.inss.org.il/index.aspx?id=4538&articleid=7181). The Kibbutz Sufa massagre was another (http://www.timesofisrael.com/tunnel-infiltration-thwarted-near-kibbutz-sufa/)
Those tunnels are part of a larger underground city underneath the Gaza Strip, which has defensive, offensive, and command & control dimensions. Miri Eisen, former head of the IDF’s combat intelligence unit: “All of the city of Gaza, throughout the different urban areas, which is so much a part of the Gaza Strip when you look at it from outside, these low-ranking urban areas, one, two, three-story houses all have a subterranean aspect. You’ve seen some of the tunnels that they have tunneled for a mile or two from the Gaza Strip into Israel because those we’ve exposed, but we have full intelligence information about the subterrian ones that they’ve built underneath the city. That’s where Ismail Haniyeh did his tape, tape that he showed a couple of days ago. It’s where they do their press conferences. Everything is underground.” (https://soundcloud.com/the-israel-project/us-communications-7-17-14-900)
Degrading the tunnels can’t be done from the air, because there’s no way to damage them without inflicting massive damage on civilian infrastructure. Col. Richard Kemp, a retired British Army officer who served as Commander of British Forces in Afghanistan: “We must commend Israel for the courage to put their soldiers’ lives at risk. The alternative would be carpet bombing & mass [civilian] casualties.” (https://twitter.com/COLRICHARDKEMP/status/489875919822008320)
Degrading the tunnels can’t be done from the air, because there’s no way to robustly detect them. Miri Eisen, former head of the IDF’s combat intelligence unit:: “The problem with the tunnels is of course that their detection is, is not accurate because you don’t have the visual aspect of the tunnel itself, you don’t have exactly the depth, and of course there are many other practical questions, is it protected, etc. etc. Usually what the IDF is doing is following and gutting the formation and waiting for the right moment either to ambush that, or to as we saw in Kerem Shalom a few weeks ago to bomb it in the last moment, this is the method that was chosen this time too.” (https://soundcloud.com/the-israel-project/us-communications-7-17-14-900)
Degrading the tunnels has the potential to do long-term damage to Hamas. Hamas can’t just rebuild like they have in the past. Amon Yadlin, former head of the IDF Military Intelligence Directorate (Aman) and current director of the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, “The fact that the tunnels used by Hamas for its military buildup after Cast Lead and Pillar of Defense were destroyed and closed by the Egyptians will make it possible to ensure that after a significant blow is struck at production facilities in Gaza, the post-operation buildup, if there is any, will be slow and limited.” (http://www.inss.org.il/index.aspx?id=4538&articleid=7181)
“The military significance of [the tunnels] cannot be overemphasized.” Gabriel Schoenfeld , a senior fellow at the Hudson institute: “The military significance of all this cannot be overemphasized: Ultra-deep shelters for critical military facilities can be made formidably resistant to attack. It is exceedingly difficult to discern from the surface where tunnel ventilation shafts are located or in which direction a tunnel proceeds. One has only to consider the trouble Israel has had finding tunnels dug by Hamas out of the Gaza Strip that are just a couple of yards below the surface. Another difficulty is determining exactly what military activities are being conducted in any given tunnel.” (http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/015/252djcxb.asp?pg=1)
For a report on the progress of Israel’s arms so far, see the Times of Israel report “IDF battles Hamas, uncovers tunnels, on 2nd day of ground op.” Subhed: “Gaza man appeals for medical help then tries to hurl grenades at soldiers; donkey despatched with explosives attached.”