David Rose

The world wants Israel to impose a ceasefire – but Hamas has to stop shooting first

Gaza is fast turning into Israel’s very own Vietnam war


A video released by Hamas showing a combatant in civilian clothes firing an RPG

May 17, 2024 15:50

Every day, the Hamas propaganda department posts videos of its fighters attacking the Israeli Defence Force on its social media channels. Anyone who thinks this war might soon be over should take a look at them. They are not a comforting watch.

On Thursday, one showed members of the terror group’s Al-Quds brigade firing armour piercing projectiles at three Merkava 4 tanks, one of which was then engulfed by a sea of flames. Another presented images of what the commentary described as “Al-Qassam Brigades, in conjunction with the Al-Quds Brigades, shelling the artillery emplacement east of Jabalia in the northern Gaza Strip with mortars”. On Friday, this was followed by “scenes of mortar lava that destroyed enemy soldiers and vehicles penetrating east of the city of Rafah”.

Of course, there is no way of verifying when or where this footage was shot. However, to judge by the state of the vegetation depicted in the places where these attacks were recorded, the videos were not taken in winter but much more recently. The fighters’ faces have been blurred, but the videos show them dressed in thin, hot weather clothing.

On my last visit to Israel, I spoke to an officer from military intelligence. He told me that the total length of the network of tunnels Hamas has excavated beneath the Gaza Strip was thought to exceed 600 kilometres, of which at that stage, in mid-January, three months after the start of the conflict, the IDF controlled just 12. I don’t know what the figure is now, but it is clear that Hamas is still in this fight – and that the tunnels are a significant factor in its resilience. Whatever the provenance of the propaganda videos, there is no doubt that a ferocious battle that has caused loss of life on both sides has been raging in Jabalia all week – in an area that, as the JC’s correspondent Anshel Pfeffer points out in this week’s paper, was supposedly “cleared” in late October. This week has also seen rockets fired from Gaza towards Ashkelon and Be’er Sheva.

There is a precedent for this: the vast Cu Chi tunnel network around Saigon that hid the Vietcong and enabled it to mount wave after wave of attacks on US forces during the Vietnam War. The Americans tried repeatedly to destroy the tunnels and so crush its guerrilla enemy. In January 1966, for example, they mounted Operation Crimp, a carpet bombing campaign that is said to have turned the jungle that concealed the tunnel openings into a ravaged moonscape. It failed dismally, and almost exactly two years later, the tunnels became the launch pad for the devastating Tet offensive. More than any other event, this weakened America’s commitment to fighting the war, ultimately triggering the US withdrawal and consequent Communist victory.

Be in no doubt: the Hamas Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar, an autodidact intellectual as well as a callous, fanatical sadist, does not need to be taught this lesson from history.

There are other parallels between South Vietnam and Gaza. I’ve written here before that Sinwar and his cohorts must always have known that Israel could only respond with maximum force to an attack as savage as the October 7 massacre, and therefore must have decided that the loss of thousands of Palestinian civilians was a price worth paying. Many civilians were killed in the various attempts to destroy the Cu Chi tunnel network, too.

Vietnam was the first televised war, and images of the horrors wrought by carpet bombing were a major factor in the emergence of the US peace movement and America’s slide to defeat. Israel isn’t razing jungles with unguided bombs dropped from B52s, but I don’t need to point out how disastrous the scenes of death and destruction filmed in Gaza have been for its standing and international image.

Those scenes, however, have fostered a bogus narrative: that despite having perpetrated the October massacre, Hamas and its allies are now purely victims, passive recipients of Israeli violence, with no ability or agency to end this war. It is, therefore, down to Israel alone to end the killing by ordering a ceasefire.

The propaganda videos tell a different story: of young, trained and motivated fighters, stuffing shell after shell into concealed mortars, launching rockets and RPGs and greeting each successful firing with a cry of “Allahu Akbar”.

If the world wants a Gaza ceasefire, they will have to stop doing that. Of this, there is so far no sign.

May 17, 2024 15:50

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