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TWILIGHT ZONE

Israel To Restrain Retaliation After Palestinians Blow Up Israeli Position In Gaza, Killing Five Soldiers and Wounding Six Others

Engineering Experts: ‘There Is A High-Tech Solution To The Tunnels;

It’s A Matter Of Cost-Effectivesness For IDF Military Planners’

Analyst David Essing: ‘Israel And Moderate Palestinians Now In Twilight Zone Before Palestinian Election In January’

Tunnel Explosion

In the Gaza Strip, five IDF soldiers were killed and another six were injured, one critically, when Palestinian terrorists tunneled under an Israeli position and detonated more than a ton of explosives. The blast totally demolished the post which was manned by Israeli Muslim Bedouins who serve in the Desert Reconnaissance Battalion. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz held urgent consultations with the IDF Chief of Staff and Shabak Security Director and then ordered a series of localized retaliatory actions. For the first time since Arafat’s death, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has criticized the Palestinian leadership for not doing enough to halt the violence.At the same time, Analyst David Essing believes the latest tunnel attack will spur the IDF into finding a high-tech solution to the Palestinian use of tunneling as a tactic of warfare.

Explosive tunnels - a new and deadly tactic in Palestinian warfare against the IDF in the Gaza Strip.IDF military planners will now be forced to speed up a high-tech counter-measure to uncover tunnels packed by explosives which can be detonated under Israeli military positions or civilian sites.

Tunnel Terrorists

It was a major Palestinian success and a big flop for IDF intelligence. For four months, the Palestinians dug a tunnel several hundred yards and planted a ton or more of explosives under the J.V.T. position near the Rafah terminal which enables Palestinians to cross back and forth between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. It was a combined operation - under the cover of darkness. They blew up the position, and two gunmen then opened fire from close range. One of them was killed the other got way. From further off, other Palestinians also opened fire and launched mortars. The next phase was a second explosion. The IDF position was totally demolished; five soldiers were killed and six others wounded, one of them critically. The troops were Israeli Bedouin Arabs who volunteered to serve in the special Desert Reconnaissance unit.During the more than four years of violence, Palestinians have dug tunnels under the Israeli controlled Philadelfi Corridor, which separates Egyptian controlled Sinai from the Gaza Strip, for smuggling in arms and explosives. The tunnel explosion indicates the Palestinians have perfected it to a deadly tactic of warfare. It should not have come as a surprise. In June and September, the Palestinians also blew up explosives under two other IDF positions but with less explosives and fewer casualties. Some Israeli observers have warned quietly that it was only a matter of time before the Palestinians got the hang of it. There are ramifications beyond the Gaza Strip where a security fence has proved successful in preventing terrorists infiltrating on the ground. However, if the IDF has not succeeded in developing a fool-proof system for preventing underground penetrations, what will happen after the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip? It will simply be easier for terrorists to tunnel their way under the security fence and come up on the Israeli side of the border. Israeli observers say the IDF must be taking this into consideration, although the military is loath to spend a lot of money in the Gaza Strip which is to be evacuated next year.Civilian engineers say there is a technological answer to detecting the tunnels. They note that companies, which specialize in geophysics in Russia and the U.S., have developed the technology. It is only a matter of cost effectiveness. It can be assumed that the Rafah disaster will spur the IDF into pulling out all the stops now.Just last week, an IDF soldier and his dog, were blown up by explosives planted by Palestinians who tunneled across to the Israeli side. This explosion was at the vital Karnei terminal, which allows Palestinian workers to enter Israel. This crossing has been closed due to the terror attack.For the first time since Arafat’s death last month, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has criticized the new Palestinian leadership for not doing enough to halt the violence. However, Sharon’s comments were low key and he did not mention Muhmoud Abbas, the Palestinian moderate candidate in the January election. The Prime Minister was addressing a group of visiting U.S. Congressmen in Jerusalem. His comments set the tone for the series of ‘localized’ Israeli retaliation decided upon by Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz. Both Israel and the Palestinians moderates, led by Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister, are now in a ‘twilight zone’ in the run up to the Palestinian election on January 9th. Israeli officials say there is still no sign the Palestinian leadership is doing a thing to halt the terrorists. But Israel is apparently doing all it can to get Abbas elected; Sharon does not want to do anything that could upset the apple-cart for Muhmoud Abbas. For his part, Abbas does not want to be accused of being ‘soft’ on Israel by trying to rein in the terrorists: and until he is elected, Israel cannot really hold him to account. But if both Sharon and Abbas are trying to cool it and build up some peace momentum, the opposite is true for the terrorists. Hamas and the Fetah Hawks, which claimed responsibility for the tunnel bombing, want to show the Palestinian public that violence is the way to go. Iran, through its proxy Hizballah in south Lebanon, has also allocated millions of dollars for the terrorists to torpedo expectations of peace before the election. The tunnel blast has the Hizballah trade-mark from south Lebanon, even to the point of filming it. Incidentally, it is much harder to tunnel under the west bank where there is a layer of bedrock, not sand. Less than twenty four hours after the tunnel operation, five mortar bombs were launched at Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip. There were no casualties although one of the mortars scored a direct hit on a building. Israel choppers fired eight missiles at Palestinian targets, including a metal workshop used to produce Qassam rockets.The Palestinian civilian population is also paying the price for the tunnel bombing; Israel has temporarily closed the Rafah terminal crossing which allows them to go back and forth to Egypt. Deputy Defense Minister Zeev Boim cracks that last summer the terminal was closed down for several weeks in order to search for the tunnels. However, due to Israeli criticism that this was penalizing innocent Palestinians, the terminal was reopened without the tunnel in the area being uncovered.

And this question - how come the Palestinians could mass a combined attack and transport a ton and half of explosives from the Egyptian side, without the Egyptians being aware of what is going on under their noses?

David Essing

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