Hamas mega-attack thwarted, but what’s the next what-if?

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

About a year ago I visited my son at his Los Angeles home. On a sunny weekend morning, we chatted by his garage, the old-fashioned springlock door opened just above my head.

Suddenly the springs failed and the garage door came crashing down. Before I could react, Aaron yanked me away from 200 pounds of dead weight in a free-fall. The door missed me by a fraction of an inch.

Thanks to my son, what would have been the worst trauma of my life turned out to be nothing but a momentary adrenaline rush, soon forgotten. So forgotten, I don’t think Aaron ever fixed the garage.

Calamities that don’t happen are mere hypotheticals. People often dismiss hypotheticals, especially in political debates. Indeed, it’s hard to work up an emotional lather over things that never occurred.

But I’m going to try.

Interrogations of Hamas militants captured in Operation Protective Edge have revealed a terror plot so spectacular, it would have traumatized Israel forever.

Sometime around Rosh Hashanah, hundreds of Hamas fighters, armed to the teeth, were planning to launch a surprise attack, emerging from 20 to 30 terror tunnels dug into Israel and fanning out across southern Israel, slaughtering every Jew they saw. According to the Jerusalem Post, the attack plan included a fleet of motorcycles and syringes to be used to drug and kidnap scores of Israelis, probably mostly children.

Some tunnels reached directly under the dining halls of nearby kibbutzim. Now, close your eyes and imagine that scene: You’re casually eating dinner with your family when suddenly, there’s an explosion. Out of the floor scramble scores of masked gunmen, firing away.

This was going to happen soon. Now it’s not. Israel’s incursion into Gaza prevented it. All of the known cross-border terror tunnels lie in heaps of rubble, years of preparation blown up and overturned by bulldozers.

The plot came to light a few weeks into the war. With news breaking minute by minute in recent weeks, I haven’t read much lately about the thwarted Rosh Hashanah mega-attack. But had Hamas pulled it off, surely it would have been Israel’s 9/11.

Ah yes, 9/11. I remember the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, driving to the Los Angeles high school where I taught English. In the parking lot I ran into a fellow teacher who tearfully told me that terrorists had flown two planes into the World Trade Center towers, which then collapsed. All the students had been sent home and I should go home, too.

I was confused. Planes? You mean, like twin-engine prop planes? What do you mean, collapsed? How can planes knock down skyscrapers? What, the Pentagon, too?

My most enduring memory of that morning, besides the shock, was the incomprehensibility of the attack’s design. Before that day, I could not have imagined it. Had someone described 9/11 to me on 9/10, I would have called it a crazy hypothetical.

Today, in the wake of Israel’s pullout from Gaza, I understand why the media remains focused on civilian deaths there. I share the world’s horror over that, though I blame every casualty on Hamas. Every single one.

The deaths of innocent Palestinians caught in the crossfire are not hypothetical. They’re real. So the world cried “Enough.” European mobs screamed “Death to the Jews.” The media wagged its finger; heads of state pressured Israel to stop.

But how can Israel stop? Now that we know the true purpose of the tunnels, now that Hamas has forced us to imagine the unimaginable, how can Israel — how can the world — permit the tunnels, present and future, to exist?

Sickening as it is, as long as any tunnels remain, or are rebuilt, the conflict in one fashion or another goes on.

Israel saw this round through, smashing every tunnel it found. Perhaps over time the memory of them, and the attack for which they were built, will fade.

But somewhere in the bowels of the Earth, Hamas’ murderous politburo is hard at work on Plan B. What could be worse than the foiled September massacre? I can’t imagine.

Hamas can. And this is why Israel fights what is, and also the “what-ifs.”


Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.