An update from LDFI
Some worrying developments (Gaza) and some hopeful developments (Turkey).
Hamas’s leader in Gaza recently confirmed that Hamas is reconstructing the sophisticated tunnel network that facilitated attacks on Israelis in 2014. During Operation Protective Edge the IDF destroyed 32 tunnels being used by Hamas. The tunnels are said to be part of a strategy to swiftly kidnap Israeli soldiers or civilians and attack Israeli targets in any future conflict. Hamas is also reported to be smuggling ISIS-affiliated terrorists into the Gaza Strip via tunnels from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula for medical treatment in Khan Younis’s Nasser Hospital.
There have been five reported incidents in recent weeks of tunnel collapses resulting in the deaths of Hamas operatives involved in their construction and repair. Channel Two in Israel reported that there was a discussion in the security cabinet about the tunnels with Naftali Bennett alone in proposing that the tunnels be attacked immediately. Residents in communities close to the Gaza strip continue to report that they can hear tunnels being constructed and urge the IDF to take action.
Detecting the tunnels is more complex that it would at first seem. There is no effective method to locate existing tunnels. A US-Israeli project to build an underground ‘Iron Dome’ to search and destroy tunnels involving Elbit and Rafael was announced last week with the US investing $120m over three years. But the technology will take some time to develop and become operational. In the short term the debate about how to tackle the tunnel threat will continue. IDF Intelligence officials assess that Hamas does not want a war with Israel but is making ready in case one were to break out. BICOM will be publishing a research report about the tunnel threat next week.
Closer to a deal with Turkey
Israeli and Turkish officials are getting closer to a deal that would lead to a resumption of diplomatic relations and exchange of Ambassadors. The outstanding issues relate to Turkish access to Gaza and Israel’s request that Turkey stop hosting Hamas on their soil and allowing them to plan operations against Israel. BICOM will be publishing a briefing paper about the details of the deal. Israeli-Turkish links are unlikely ever to return to the close alliance of the past but a more business like relationship will emerge in the months ahead that will be of significant benefit to Israel and the wider region.
17 countries have agreed to seek a cessation of hostilities in Syria, to begin in a week. Although this excludes military action against Islamic State, and Al Nusra. The statistics are horrifying. Since the fighting started in 2011, 11 million people in a state of 22 million have left their homes, 4.5 million have left Syria, 2 million children are living under siege and likely starving. According to the UN, 250,000 people have been killed, 13,000 of them children. For all the focus on Islamic State, it is the Syrian regime that is responsible for the vast majority of this terrible loss of life. It is they and their allies – Hezbollah, Iran and Russia – who have caused most of this death and destruction. The regime has not yet responded to the ceasefire proposal and continues to encircle Aleppo. Opposition groups have welcomed it and, if implemented, believe that it could be a first step towards the start of peace talks in Switzerland.