Secretary of State John Kerry is in the wrong place, talking to the wrong people about the wrong thing. Last week he had already dragged Qatar, a Hamas backer, into the picture rather than support Egypt and Israel’s attempt for a no-conditions cease-fire. He then offered a proposal that in essence betrayed our ally Israel before jetting off to talk to European Union diplomats, presumably to attempt to foist his Hamas-friendly deal on Israel.
Let’s start with the subject of negotiations. Kerry is obsessed with brokering a permanent truce that would freeze the status quo. But that is an impossibility for Israel, as the Jerusalem Post reports:
Hamas built a network of tunnels that begin a few kilometers away from the Israeli border, and pass under the frontier, the source said, in a bid to enable dozens of terrorists to infiltrate the country. In response, the IDF has used a wide array of firepower and ground units to tackle the challenge, employing a rapid maneuver to “shatter the enemy and deny it freedom of operation in closed areas, where it is based,” he stated.
“We move in as quickly as possible, engage in close combat, and prevent the enemy from using its tunnels to enter our territory,” the source said. He recalled seizing large numbers of weapons, suicide bomb belts, and projectile launchers in recent raids.
“Hamas has turned tunneling into a national profession. They lean on highly-skilled engineers to do this. We’re dealing with all of these threats through close-range combat,” the source added. . . . “We understand that if we do not deal with these threats, they will come to our home front. If you talk to members of our unit, it is clear to all of us that if we don’t take care of this, if we don’t destroy these threats and thwart them, they will reach us in a much more aggressive way, and they will harm Israeli civilians and soldiers.”
This is why during the humanitarian truce begun on Saturday, and then temporarily extended, Israel continued to track down and destroy these tunnels. Rather than work on a “truce,” Kerry should set his sights on a plan for demolishing the tunnels. The Israeli Defense Forces can do so without continuing combat, but only if Hamas permits soldiers complete access to all of Gaza. Israel has no interest in reoccupying Gaza, but only with destruction of the tunnels can hostilities end and reconstruction of Gaza continue.
The Times of Israel explains the problem:
Israel’s Communications Minister Gilad Erdan, a former member of the security cabinet, tells Channel 2 that Israel “will not end this operation and leave Gaza until the tunnels are dealt with.”
Israel is also intent on harming Hamas’s terrorist infrastructure, he says. “The international community needs to understand that we are very open to the economic rehabilitation of Gaza… but Hamas is our enemy.” If Hamas continues to build rockets and tunnels, Israel won’t be able to tolerate that.
Erdan says that, when the time comes, Abbas “can certainly be an address” for a security role at the Gaza border crossings.
But what does Kerry do? He adopts Hamas’s position, undermining both Israel and Egypt, in putting out a proposal that would let Hamas keep its remaining missiles and tunnels. The Israeli government decried this as a “capitulation” to Hamas and was understandably “outraged.” In a tenure filled with gaffes, missteps and blinding vanity this is a new low for Kerry.
This certainly moves to center stage the problem of de-militarizing Gaza. It is proving much harder than anyone imagined because the dividing line between civilian and terrorist has been virtually eliminated by Hamas. The Post explains:
The source said the unit is operating in a heavily built-up area, characterized by residential buildings, orchards surrounded by buildings, and tunnels. Hamas has planted its military assets deep inside the very fabric of Gazan civilian life, he said. “Hamas operatives and area commanders, as well as their rocket cell members, keep one part of their home for normal family life. A second part of the home is the command center, or the start of a tunnel. Daily life and military infrastructure are totally interwoven,” the source said.
“This is the source of the complexity we face in our combat. We must overcome the challenge of differentiating between Hamas and the civilian population,” he added. The Maglan unit is meeting the challenge, detecting a series of Hamas assets, he said.
It is not merely that weaponry is placed near homes; homes have become military garrisons:
[T]he source said. . . . “I have not entered one civilian home that did not have weapons, suicide belts, or booby traps in it. You can see the booby traps from the outside,” the source said. Any home found to be containing women and children leads to an immediate halt of the raid, he added. “We hold our fire, there’s no question. We don’t take chances with children and women. We allow them to leave, and then continue the raid. That’s who we are, and this is the source of our strength,” he added.
The administration might at least comprehend the extent of the problem before mouthing off about the need for Israel to exercise “greater caution” with civilians or, worse, allowing Hamas to keep its arsenal. Indeed whom does the Obama administration consider a “civilian”?
Then there is the matter of Kerry’s choice of diplomats and locale: The Times of Israel reports, “Channel 2′s Ehud Ya’ari, one of Israel’s most respected Middle East commentators, lambastes Kerry for having jetted off to Paris to meet with the Europeans, Turks and Qatar, with no Egyptians, no representatives of Mahmoud Abbas’s PA, and no Israelis present.” He sure seems anxious to undercut the people (primarily the Egyptians) who are most likely to hold the line against Hamas and who are trying to put into place conditions that Israel desperately needs to secure its population from daily assault. If selling out Israel is Kerry’s goal, there is no better group to enlist than the Europeans.
If the Israelis can continue to dis-entangle missiles, suicide vests and rockets from the civilian population and to destroy the tunnels, then an end to hostilities can take place. But for now the essential work to destroy Hamas’s terrorist apparatus continues in a state of war. Apparently the Israelis will need to accomplish their objective despite Kerry’s meddling. And, by the way, Hamas, in embedding itself in civilian homes, is guilty of massive war crimes, responsible for each civilian casualty in those quasi-military sites and should be held to account. Kerry might bring up that unpleasant reality when chit-chatting with his European pals.