Israel's Gaza Dilemma

BY MIKAELA TENNER Pictured above is a structure that was uncovered as part of the Hamas-controlled tunnels in Gaza. This structure was an improvised office used as a command center. (Israel Defense Forces)

Last May, residents of Southern Israel living on the nation’s border with Gaza reported hearing digging noises beneath their homes. Fearing that Hamas, the terrorist organization that controls Gaza, was once again digging tunnels into Israel, Israelis promptly notified authorities. After extensive testing and examination, Israeli authorities assured the worried residents that there were no such tunnels being built beneath their homes. However, less than a year later, on April 28, the Israel Defense Force revealed their discovery of an extensive tunnel network extending from southern Gaza into Israel. Although the Israel Defense Force promptly made plans to eradicate the tunnels, this recent discovery presents troubling implications for the future of Israel and Gaza.

These “terror tunnels” have been an extensive source of trouble between Israel and Gaza in the past. According to reports, these tunnels have been designed specifically for “launching kidnapping and killing raids” on Israelis, and are even equipped with rooms to hold hostages. During the war between Israel and Gaza in July of 2014, Hamas infamously used these tunnels to kidnap and later murder 21-year-old Israeli Oron Shaul. Although Israel could potentially retaliate against Hamas if they continue to build these “terror tunnels,” Hamas appears to have no plans to stop their construction.

It now seems only a matter of time before yet another outbreak of violence between Israel and Hamas occurs. Just last week, Hamas claimed credit for the bus bombing that injured nearly 20 Israelis and killed the 19-year-old suicide bomber. This bus bombing is the first large-scale suicide bombing incident in nearly eight years, and comes shortly after Hamas began to encourage their citizens to carry out bus bombings against Israeli Jews. Although Israelis have seen an increase in attacks over the past six months, they have primarily been composed of stabbings and car rammings, typically from individuals unaffiliated with Hamas or other terrorist organizations. With looming violence on the horizon, it seems as if it would be wise for Israel to fully relinquish control of Gaza. Israel first disengaged from Gaza ten years ago, removing the 8,500 Jewish Israelis and all troops in the region. However, Gaza is still technically a territory under Israeli control. Since Hamas refuses to recognize Israel, and Israel refuses to negotiate with any entity that refuses to acknowledge their sovereignty, there do not appear to be any negotiations to fully give up Gaza. However, although fully giving up control of Gaza may seem to be the obvious solution, would it really lessen tensions between Israel and Hamas?

If Gaza were given full freedom, the first outcome could be that Hamas would still maintain control of the region. However, although Hamas calls for the liberation of Gaza, its charter also calls for the full eradication and “obliteration” of Israel. Its leaders consistently encourage and praise attacks on all Jews, and the Hamas charter encourages violence between Muslims and Jews, even reminiscing of the day when all Jews are killed. However, even if Gaza were entirely free, Hamas would likely not be satisfied, as Israel and the world’s 14 million  Jews would still exist. With both the complete eradication of Israel and Jews so prominent in Hamas’ dialogue, it is likely that their violence towards the Jewish state and its people would only continue. There is a small chance that Hamas would be satisfied with gaining full control of Gaza, however, given their violent nature and their vile hatred towards all things Jewish, this remains a very small possibility. The more likely outcome is that they would continue to tunnel, fire rockets, and encourage their citizens to murder Jews, causing Israel to retaliate back.

However, with the rise of ISIS, the power dynamics of the Middle East are changing and this presents an even worse outcome than Hamas could ever present. Currently, ISIS holds a presence in the Sinai Peninsula, just miles away from Israel’s southern border with Gaza. If Israel did give up full control of Gaza, Hamas, an incredibly unstable terrorist group would then be in charge of protecting their border with Sinai in order to prevent ISIS from getting into Gaza. ISIS’s takeover of Syria and Iraq have already proven their ability to take over unstable countries, and there is a very strong chance that if given the opportunity, they would use the instability of Gaza to takeover the region. ISIS has already pledged to attack Israel soon, vowing to “uproot the state of the Jews.” If given the opportunity, ISIS would likely utilize Gaza’s strategic location to begin their assault on the Jewish state, which would further endanger the Palestinians in Gaza.

In the standoff between Israel and Hamas today, there is no easy solution. Although Palestinians and most Israelis do not favor Israel continuing their control of the region, there are many possibilities that need to be taken into account. For Israelis, withdrawing control of Gaza will likely not end tensions with Hamas, and will further expand ISIS’s access to them. For Palestinians, a free Gaza could potentially open them up to an invasion by ISIS, which would very likely further endanger their well-being. Until Gaza has a more stable government closer to that of the West Bank, it is unlikely that relinquishing control of Gaza will make any parties better off.