This presents both Israel as well as the Western critics of Israel's resort to force last summer with a problem: 1) Should Israel do nothing about these tunnels and allow Hamas to slaughter their civilians? 2) Should Israel once again invade Gaza and destroy the tunnels? 3) Should Israel ramp up their blockade of Gaza and squeeze Hamas economically until they stop construction? Western critics of Israel have condemned them for doing both 2) and 3) in the past, but to say they should not now resort to force or an economic blockade is to say they should allow the tunnels to be built and their children to be massacred by the Hamas barbarians.
While we mull over these options here's the essence of an informative piece on the state of affairs Israel is confronting right now:
The Israeli defense establishment and Israeli decision-makers have been well aware for many months of Hamas' rebuilding of the tunnels that were destroyed during Operation Protective Edge in August 2014. Hamas is not trying to hide its flagship project and has been pursuing it vigorously. The organization’s military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, has invested immense resources in the project, while ignoring the deplorable condition of the population in the Gaza Strip, where things have worsened since last summer’s operation and the closing of the border with Egypt in December 2014.The critics of Israel are in a difficult spot. If Israel employs tougher sanctions the critics will have to endorse that policy since it's the only plausible peaceful alternative to war. If an economic squeeze fails to deter Hamas then the critics will have to remain quiet should war break out again. To object would be to implicitly side with terrorism.
The tunnel reconstruction project resumed a few weeks after the end of Operation Protective Edge. It employs hundreds of Palestinian workers as well as heavy transportation machinery. Palestinian men are fighting for the privilege of working in the tunnels, since this is their only chance to find work in the unemployment-riddled Gaza Strip. This intensive activity along the Israeli border has fully exposed the tunnel-digging and fortification project for all to see.
The defense establishment rejects the allegation ... that at least one Hamas tunnel has crossed the border into Israel. But members of Kibbutz Nirim in the western Negev Desert claim that a private company whose services they retained carried out a comprehensive inspection, which showed a high probability of a tunnel under the houses in the kibbutz.
Regardless of whether Hamas has been able to cross the border with Israel within 10 months, there is no question that this is its goal, and one that it has been pursuing strenuously. Before long, the project will get to the point at which dozens of tunnels are primed and ready for a strike in Israel. To date, Israel has apparently not taken any pre-emptive measures. Unlike on the eve of Operation Protective Edge, there is no dispute today over whether the defense establishment has intelligence about the scope of the tunnels and their real threat to Israel’s southern communities. Today, the threat is in the open.
Israel now faces both a military and diplomatic dilemma. If the IDF were to embark on another campaign in Gaza to destroy the tunnels, as Bar-Lev suggests, it is abundantly clear that it will not stop at the border. Instead, it will evolve into a large-scale operation with all the implications of such a move, namely rocket fire at Israel, a ground offensive and airstrikes in Gaza, fighting in densely populated areas and civilian casualties as well as further destruction of the infrastructure in Gaza, which is still licking its wounds in the aftermath of last summer’s fighting.
From an Israeli standpoint, another military operation in Gaza within a year will intensify the international pressure, regardless of the importance of the operation and the fact that destroying the tunnels is clearly a defensive need. On the other hand, when the picture is so crystal clear and the danger so tangible, Israel cannot again sit idly by and continue to treat Hamas as if the threat doesn’t exist.
Israel has been forced in recent months to ease the blockade on the Gaza Strip. Supplies are shipped only via Israel, after Egypt sealed off the smuggling tunnels in Rafah. Had it not been for the recent more lenient approach and the allowance of raw materials previously banned by Israel, Gaza would have faced a humanitarian crisis by now.
Jerusalem’s only option now is to give the ultimatum to Hamas’ political and military leadership that unless the tunnel project is stopped, the rationed construction materials Israel is currently transferring to Gaza will stop, and little by little the easing of the blockade will end as well. Tightening the blockade will cause further deterioration in the population's situation. However, this is apparently the only deterrent at Israel's disposal before a military operation, which in turn could lead to civilian casualties and fatalities and more suffering for Gazans.