Almost all the papers in Israel were telling the same story: the tunnel leading from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory was built with Israeli concrete. GOC Southern Command, Major General Sami Turgeman made the message (Hebrew) clear: “Hamas continues to gather strength and build up its power. It cynically exploited our good intentions to transfer construction materials into the Gaza Strip for the private sector, for the benefit of the population”. Considering how the tunnel story made major headlines, we thought we’d explore a few surrounding questions.
The IDF estimated that it took between 18 months and two years to build the tunnel and that it was completed two months ago. In other words, the tunnel was completed a month before Israel began allowing cement destined for the private sector into the Gaza Strip. Why then, does the GOC Southern Command claim that Hamas “exploited our good intentions to transfer construction materials into the Gaza Strip for the private sector, for the benefit of the population”? Does he not trust the IDF’s assessments? Does he think Hamas built a 1.7-kilometer long tunnel, at a depth of 12 to 18 meters in less than one month?
Maybe it was just a mistake and the GOC Southern Command meant to say that the tunnel was built with constructions materials purchased by international organizations? If this is the allegation, it had better be said expressly. It has ramifications. Israel allows construction materials to be sold to international aid organizations after a very long and arduous approval process. It also demands proof that the project is being executed and that the construction materials are safe-guarded at all times. In other words, such a claim would mean that the army somehow lost track of cement in quantities used to make 800 tons of concrete, that somehow made their way from international organizations into the hands of Hamas. How can hundreds of tons of cement slip under the radar despite Israel’s strict security requirements? Is the army going to investigate this?
Come to think of it, why would Hamas buy expensive cement from international organizations, or risk stealing it, if it can buy the same cement cheaply through the tunnels? This question is more relevant still given the fact Egyptian cement bags were found (Hebrew) inside the tunnel. What then, is the basis for the assessment that the tunnel was built with cement from Israel?
Most construction materials used to come in through the tunnels, critics may say, but today many of the tunnels are not in operation. That’s true, but it is worth recalling that some construction materials still enter Gaza both via the tunnels and via Rafah Crossing. Between July and September, a monthly average of 334 truckloads of construction materials came in through Rafah, or the equivalent of about 13,861 tons of cement, steel and gravel. By the way, according to media reports, Israel doesn’t pressure Egypt to halt these transfers, quite the opposite.
According to the army, it had to have taken between 18 months and two years to build this tunnel; a period during which Israel restricted how much cement entered for international organizations. The explanation for the restrictions was based on security and that the materials might be used for military purposes. Because of these restrictions, international organizations built fewer schools, hospitals, houses and infrastructure in the Strip than it otherwise could have. In the end, it turns out that despite all these safeguards and restrictions, a large tunnel was built between Gaza and Israel.
So if the restrictions on the transfer of construction materials into Gaza didn’t work as a security measure, and experts have already determined that the economic closure is ineffective, maybe it’s time to consider a new policy?