Sunday, June 6, 2010

Tomorrow's secret tunnels

Tomorrow's secret tunnels

"Speak to the Defense Ministry," the outgoing chief of general staff Lt.-Gen. Moshe Ya'alon told me when I recently asked why suitable equipment had not been brought in to detect the Palestinians' arms smuggling tunnels from the Sinai Desert to the Gaza Strip. When I persisted and asked why a trencher – a machine that can dig deep trenches to reveal tunnels – had not been brought in earlier, Ya'alon responded in the same laconic fashion: "The Defense Ministry is the address for those questions."

So I went to the Defense Ministry; that is, I bumped into the Defense Ministry's all-powerful official who controls, for example, ministry contracts worth billions for the construction of the security fence and the "caravilla" modular homes for the evacuees from GushKatif.

We happened to meet last month, late at night on the Kissufim road, on the first day of the forced evacuation of Gush Katif. He boasted that he had already brought a few hundred containers to pack up the contents of the homes that would be demolished.

"What about the Palestinians' arms-smuggling tunnels? I asked. "Why haven't you brought suitable equipment to uncover them?"

"What tunnels? What smuggling? What equipment?" the poker-faced official retorted defiantly, dismissing my question when all the time I knew perfectly well that this issue had crossed his desk on more than one occasion.

In a southern settlement not far from there stands, incapacitated, the ultimate symbol of the IDF's and the Defense Ministry's failure in the war against the tunnels: a trencher costing $3 million, purchased in Texas this year at the recommendation of the IDF's Engineering Corps and the Ground Forces Command and with the approval of the Defense Ministry.

Call it too little, too late.

The hapless Texan trencher was designed to dig four meters deep. Along came the clever IDF officers and asked the American factory to adapt it to dig down 10 meters in order to uncover tunnels.

They were warned at the factory: It wouldn't work. But we thought we knew better. Then, when the machine arrived in Israel a few months ago, the IDF armored it so it could work on a battlefield. Now it's standing idle.

THE SMUGGLING of arms through tunnels has continued undisturbed all these past months. The arms smuggled in will fill Hamas and Jihad arsenals in the Gaza Strip in preparation for the next phase in their war against Israel.

The IDF may well have had no choice but to relinquish the Philadelphi corridor and hand over our defense against the smuggling to the Egyptian army's "border police." But it is inane to claim that it makes no difference, that even when we manned the border they managed to smuggle arms in; and that after the Gaza seaport is opened, they will smuggle through it, too.

This is like arguing that the police should stop enforcing traffic laws because no matter what they do there will always be road accidents; or that they stop arresting murderers because there will always be others.

The IDF generals who proffered this pathetic excuse have failed in their responsibility to defend Israel's border against the continuing Palestinian terror.

The Palestinians have already turned their tunnels into a strategic weapon. Their success on the Philadelphi corridor has emboldened them to continue digging tunnels beyond the Gaza Strip to the Israeli settlements in the south of the country as well as everywhere else – under every separation fence or wall throughout the country – to surprise the Israelis where they live with murder, sabotage and hostage abduction. Our failure until now will lead to an epidemic of future tunnels.

IDF soldiers have fought and been killed along the death trap that is the Philadelphi corridor, and in Rafah, but there can be no doubt that they prevented far more serious scenarios. However, in light of the continued Palestinian terror offensive we must not permit any evasion of responsibility for the Israeli strategic failure in the tunnel war.

Meanwhile, millions already been poured into the construction of a protective wall along the Philadelphi corridor – from which we are now withdrawing.

THE WHITE-ELEPHANT trencher affair is just the tip of the iceberg signaling our dismal failure in the tunnel war. A misleading report was presented to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee stating that the smuggling tunnels were 25-30 meters deep, while they were known to be between 10 and 20 meters deep.

The defense establishment could have commissioned a trencher able to dig to those depths at least three or four years ago, but a combination of ministry bureaucracy and greedy contractors who proposed absurd, unworkable ideas – like a huge moat – sabotaged any serious effort.

What it boils down to is that the defense establishment, which prides itself on its hi-tech wizardry and strategic ingenuity, couldn't dig a simple ditch. The paralyzed trencher is the trademark of that failure. What's worse, our failure will come back to haunt us – both in the form of the arsenal that has already been smuggled in, and other tunnels that will be built elsewhere in the future