The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is securing the area around Shifa Hospital, the largest hospital in Gaza, reports indicated on Monday — and will soon begin an operation to clear the massive terror tunnel complex they believe Hamas has constructed beneath the facility in flagrant defiance of international law.
The Shifa Hospital operation could be a significant turning point in the narrative of the Gaza war, which has been framed by Palestinian propagandists and much of Western media as a non-stop Israeli war crime against the hapless and innocent citizens of Gaza.
At this point, the Israelis must constantly remind overseas audiences why they are operating in Gaza, as the Hamas atrocities of October 7 are forcibly erased from public memory. Palestinian supporters claim every Israeli airstrike is a wanton attack on civilian targets, while deliberate rocket attacks on Israeli civilian targets by Hamas and other Iranian proxy forces are simply ignored.
Writing at USA Today on Monday, former Israeli U.N. speechwriter Aviva Klompas pointed out that the United Nations (U.N.) “has not passed a single resolution to condemn Hamas’ savagery, even though terrorists wore GoPros to document themselves slaughtering, raping and torturing civilians.”
Klompas added the U.N. has not taken a break from its nonstop criticism of Israel to call for “the release of more than 200 hostages, including babies, children and the elderly” kidnapped by Hamas.
“The U.N. is a clubhouse for dictators and a den of moral equivocation. It is a home for corrupt tyrants to stand in judgment of free democracies, where warmongers like Russia wield a veto and notorious human rights abusers like Iran get tapped to lead human rights forums,” she charged.
The Shifa hospital could be an opportunity for Israel to turn some of these media and political narratives around, or at the very least make U.N. hypocrites squirm in their seats.
A group of eight current and former Israeli defense and intelligence officials told the New York Times (NYT) on Monday that Hamas has been working on its command complex beneath Al Shifa hospital for 16 years, and it has similar complexes beneath other hospitals as well.
Hamas officials and Al Shifa’s director deny these claims and insist the hospital houses nothing but “the sick and injured, and the medical professionals dedicated to helping them.”
Israeli officials said the IDF has previously been reluctant to jeopardize civilian life by going after the Hamas complex beneath Al Shifa, but after the October 7 atrocities, the rules of engagement have changed.
“The hospitals will be surrounded, pressure will be put on people to leave. I don’t see Israel going headlong against the civilians, but the hospital — or at least what’s underneath it — has got to be cleared out,” former Israeli deputy national security adviser Chuck Freilich told the NYT.
Israeli officials acknowledged the public-relations risk of going into the hospital, with Hamas likely to ensure civilian casualties will be maximized. The Biden White House publicly warned Israel not to launch operations against hospitals that are still treating patients – which, of course, would be every hospital sitting atop a Hamas terror tunnel. White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on Sunday the administration knows Hamas is using hospitals and their patients as human shields.
On Monday, a U.S. official “with knowledge of American intelligence” told CNN that Hamas has a “command node” beneath Al-Shifa hospital, frequently uses underground tunnels to organize its fighters, and steals fuel and electricity from the hospital to keep its command center running.
The NYT noted Israeli officials have been sounding alarms about Hamas activity at Al Shifa Hospital for years, complete with intercepted conversations of Hamas terrorists discussing the tunnel network and captured terrorists admitting the tunnels exist under interrogation. These officials are confident that exploring the hospital basement will reveal indisputable proof of what they have been saying all along.
The Israelis say they know their way around those basements because Israel built Al Shifa before it withdrew its forces from Gaza in 2005:
At first, Hamas simply dug out areas off the original basements of Al Shifa’s buildings, later going deeper and adding floors and connecting it to the vast network of reinforced tunnels it was building across Gaza, the officials said. They said it has since grown into one of the hubs of a vast tunnel system that crisscrosses Gaza.
A former senior official at Shin Bet, Israeli’s internal security service, said both Hamas and Israeli intelligence referred to the network as “the Metro” and compared the compound under Al Shifa to a major station of the New York subway system.
The former Shin Bet official and two other Israeli officials said the compound included several floors with designated spaces for meetings, living quarters and storage facilities. It can hold at least several hundred people, they said.
U.S. officials speaking on background said they also believe Hamas has a major tunnel network under Al Shifa. For that matter, the NYT recalled its own reporting in 2008 about Hamas thugs wandering the halls disguised as security guards, occasionally breaking character to execute “alleged Israeli collaborators.” Other sources have said Hamas operatives used parts of the hospital as torture chambers for their prisoners.
In early November, the IDF released a taped phone conversation in which Hamas commanders talked about stealing fuel from hospitals, including Al Shifa. NBC News reported Hamas has an immense stockpile of stolen fuel, stashed in both massive above-ground tanks and in the terror tunnel network.
On Sunday, the IDF attempted to deliver 300 liters of fuel to Al Shifa Hospital for “urgent medical purposes.” The IDF provided recordings of Hamas officials preventing the hospital from taking delivery of the fuel.
“Hamas, hiding in the hospitals and placing itself there, doesn’t want the fuel for the hospital,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “They want to get fuel that they’ll take from the hospitals to their tunnels, to their war machine.”
Hamas initially denied blocking the fuel shipment to Al Shifa, then admitted it refused the fuel, supposedly because the Israeli offer was an insulting “underestimation of the pain and suffering of patients, premature babies and medical staff who are trapped” inside the hospital.
“Through this offer, the occupation sought to launch a cheap propaganda campaign to beautify its ugly face and try to hide its crimes against humanity, its bombing of hospitals, its killing of medical staff, and its endangerment of patients’ lives by cutting off fuel, water and medicines from them,” Hamas said, without explaining why it did not tap into its own huge fuel reserves to supply the hospital.
If the IDF exposes the active tunnel network under Al Shifa Hospital that everyone seems to know is there, it could become a massive international scandal for the Indonesian hospital management, which has presented itself as a victim of Israeli aggression and claimed to know nothing about Hamas terrorists using the facility.
Then again, as Aviva Klompas pointed out at USA Today, the U.N. and international agencies have a casual attitude toward Hamas war crimes. The IDF on Monday released footage of Hamas terrorists launching rocket-propelled grenades from the entrance to another hospital, Al-Quds in Gaza City:
The U.N. World Health Organization (W.H.O.), which only 24 hours earlier declared attacks on medical facilities “unacceptable” and “a violation of international humanitarian and human rights law,” was curiously silent about footage of Hamas firing rocket weapons out of a hospital. It will be interesting to see what W.H.O. and other U.N. agencies have to say if squads of Hamas gunmen come swarming out of the Al Shifa Hospital basement to fight the IDF.
The International Committee of the Red Cross confirmed Monday that hospitals lose their special wartime protection under international law if combatants use them to hide fighters or weapons. The International Criminal Court (ICC) stressed that the burden of proof for stripping these protections is high. The IDF seems about to place a heavy bet on being able to satisfy that burden.