Earlier this month yet another tunnel Hamas was building in Gaza collapsed, killing at least one Hamas operative. It was the sixth Gaza tunnel collapse in recent months, one of which killed seven of the fighters.
What’s behind it is a matter of public speculation in Israel. Hamas, of course, says Israel is behind the collapses. The latest Israeli media reports claim that the cement Hamas has been importing into Gaza since the summer 2014 war is of poor quality, and that explains the rickety tunnels.
Yet when, after a tunnel collapse in February, the Israeli official responsible for the territories was asked whether Israel was involved in these incidents, he replied: “God knows. I would suggest the residents of the Gaza Strip not to occupy themselves with the tunnels and to get away from them, especially after seeing the results in recent days.”
Israelis living along the Gaza border have indeed been complaining bitterly about hearing tunnel-digging activity at night. The Israeli government has issued what sound like vague assurances. Hamas claims to have seen Israeli combat engineers operating at the border. Some Israeli pundits have suggested that at least some of what the Israeli residents are hearing at night is Israeli digging.
But whatever is causing the tunnel collapses, they’re a metaphor for Gaza’s fate since the war in July and August 2014.
In that war Hamas fired about 4600 rockets at Israel. The great majority were shot down or widely missed their targets. The war did manage to claim the lives of about 70 Israelis, most of them young soldiers—a “glorious” achievement for Hamas.
In Gaza, though, a total of about 2000 fighters and civilians were killed. As Breitbart reported in January: “the 2014 conflict with Israel…left tens of thousands of [Gaza] homes, schools, factories, and commercial centers in ruins. Industry in the Strip has ground to a near halt…. Last year, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency predicted that by 2020 the territory would be ‘uninhabitable.’”
Khaled Abu Toameh reports that in 2015 unemployment in Gaza “topped 40%, while more than 65% of the population live under the poverty line. More than half of its population is now almost entirely dependent on aid from different relief and humanitarian organizations….” The volume of that aid, meanwhile, is in sharp decline.
True, Hamas has now replenished its rocket arsenals:
Israeli officials now assess that Hamas has roughly the number of rockets that it had in June 2014. A major difference, though, is that most of the rockets are relatively short range and of lower quality, the officials believe….
The new rockets are mostly locally produced—due to the closing of the tunnels that ran between Sinai and the Gaza Strip and the difficulty Hamas faces in smuggling standard rockets and weapons into Gaza.
We can say for sure, at least, that Israel had something to do with the closure of the Sinai-to-Gaza tunnels:
For many long years, Israel begged the Egyptians to block Hamas’ tunnels—tunnels that allowed Gaza to become a veritable storehouse of weapons, rockets and missiles. [President] Sisi adopted this mission with great zeal, and the Egyptians destroyed all of the tunnels. Some were flooded with ocean water and some were blocked up….
To sum up: Hamas, a terror organization with about forty thousand fighters, keeps pursuing the fantasy of being able to defeat and destroy Israel, recently ranked the eighth most militarily powerful country in the world. Hamas does this at the expense of a population in dire economic straits, diverting what little aid and materials still enter the Strip into the building of rockets, tunnels, and the like that are not even on a par with those Hamas used in previous wars.
There is no sign of a popular revolt in Gaza like, for instance, the attempt at a popular revolt against Iran’s Islamist regime in 2009. It could be because Hamas’s brutal repression is too fearsome, or because too much of the population still shares Hamas’s goal of fighting Israel at all costs.
It is, in any case, a picture of human irrationality at its starkest and an old, familiar Palestinian story: pursuing an endless war against Israel while mostly killing and destroying themselves.