If there is any one single lesson from America’s first lost war – the Vietnam War – it is that tunnels can play a pivotal role. That lesson informs today’s war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip and explains why there can be no security in Israel without the total destruction of Hamas’ Gaza “terror tunnels.”
During the Vietnam war, the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops used an extensive tunnel system in and an around Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) that stretched for more than 150 miles to the Cambodia border. They literally prosecuted their war right under the noses and boots of American and South Vietnamese troops.
From these “tunnels of Cu Chi,” several major military operations were launched, including the devastating 1968 Tet Offensive that put the American command on its heels and turned the tide of the war. These tunnels were also a synergistic adjunct to the infamous Ho Chi Minh trail that delivered troops, supplies, and weapons from North Vietnam through Laos and Cambodia to the Viet Cong with devastating efficiency.
On a daily basis, the tunnels were used to bivouac troops, set booby traps, and mount surprise raids, sometimes inside the very perimeters of American bases (most devastatingly, Ton Son Nhut Air Base.) It took the American military command until 1966 to recognize the seriousness of this lethal threat, and the response was beyond inadequate – brave American “tunnel rats” armed with only pistols and flashlights were sent fruitlessly into the breach. Without an effective tunnel response, we never stood a chance.
Comes now a terror tunnel complex crisscrossing the Gaza Strip every bit the rival – and every bit as dangerous as Vietnam’s. To understand the breathtaking scope of Hamas’ tunnels, one must first understand the Gaza Strip is only 25 miles long and 3.5 to 7.5 miles at its widest. Yet, beneath its 141 square miles, there lies more than 300 miles of pure tunnel terror.
Hamas, itself, boasts this tunnel complex is twice the size of that in the Vietnam War – and equally well-equipped with food, power, barracks, and hospitals. At least some of this vast system extends right into Israeli communities along the border – frustrated Israelis have complained to their own government about the noise of the digging.
Within Gaza, many tunnels also are inter-connected with schools, hospitals, and mosques and are part of the Hamas pattern of using civilians as masks and shields for their terrorist activities. Many tunnels also house the massive rocket operations that Hamas regularly conducts against Israel – thousands of rockets can be easily moved through the tunnels and remotely detonated.
As Israeli ground troops mount their offensive in the Gaza Strip, it will be this tunnel complex – along with Hamas’ leadership – that they will seek to destroy. This will be anything but easy.
Many Hamas leaders hide in the tunnels (when they’re not in Qatar, Turkey, or Iran), and the tunnels are virtually immune to bombing. Israel tried that during an 11-day bombing barrage in 2021 and managed to destroy only about 60 miles of tunnels.
Meanwhile, as Israeli troops begin to conduct house-to-house and building-to-building clearing operations in Gaza, Hamas’ terrorist brigades will be free to move undetected beneath sitting duck Israeli troops across the length and breadth of Gaza.
These Hamas terrorists will search for easy prey for snipers while they conduct mass attacks with rifle-propelled grenades and rockets. In this guerilla war on steroids, smaller bands of Hamas raiders will pop up, some dressed in Israeli uniforms, to take deadly aim at their enemy. After such attacks, the raiders will pop back into an underground they are intimately familiar with while their Israeli pursuers will be pursuing blindly into an unknown darkness that could well be laced with booby traps.
Most dangerously, Hamas will lace tunnels with tons of explosives under major roads or beneath large buildings where Israeli troops might mass. These ultimate booby traps will be remotely detonated to inflict maximum casualties.
What is perhaps most surprising about the tunnel trap the Israelis are walking into, particularly given the technological sophistication of both Israel and the US, is the lack of any high-tech fix either to effectively detect the tunnels or to completely destroy them with advanced weaponry once detected. Yet, destroy this tunnel system the Israelis must if Israelis are to ever remain safe in their homes.
The sober reality here is that the Gaza Strip is home – if you can call this special stretch of Hell that – to more than 2 million Palestinians, half of whom are under the age of 20. The unemployment rate is nearly 50% overall and over 60% for young Palestinians.
In this de facto Islamic terrorist training camp, there is little for hundreds of thousands of young Palestinian men – and suicide-vest equipped women — to do. The default option for far too many is to be groomed and trained by their Hamas brainwashers for “death to Israel” jihad.
Not surprisingly, bordering Egypt wants no part of this toxic, radicalized Palestinian population and has sealed its borders to refugees. Nor should they have any place in the United States – it would be impossible to separate the peaceful refugees from the terrorist chaff from this particular radicalized cohort.
As for any “two state solution,” this offers no clear path to peace. Hamas will simply take whatever territory Israel might surrender on the West Bank, terrorize the Palestinians under its control to maintain power as it has done in Gaza, keep building its tunnels, and press – like a clear and dutiful Iranian proxy — for a “final solution,” Islamic terrorist style.
For all these reasons, Israel knows it must completely destroy the Gaza terror tunnels and Hamas – world opinion be damned. That is a recipe for a very long and dangerous war that must be contained in Gaza and that America must not be drawn into.
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Vietnamese American Conservative Alliance (VACA)
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