NPR’s original take on the Sinai Subway

Leave it to NPR to come up with a fresh perspective on things. This morning correspondent Eric Westerveldt did a story on what I call the ‘Sinai Subway’, the huge complex of hundreds of tunnels underneath the Gaza-Egypt border.

Over the past years these tunnels have been used to transport many things, but in particular they have enabled Hamas to build up its military capability. For example, some of the items smuggled in 2006 alone included 14,000 assault rifles and 28 tons of explosives. Anti-tank, anti-aircraft and surface-to-surface missiles have been brought in. Not only do goods come in, but terrorists go out — to Iran for training — and back. And al-Qaeda agents are thought to have entered via the Subway as well.

This is not new phenomenon. Between 2000 and 2004 — before Israel withdrew from the Strip in 2005 and before Hamas took full control in 2007 — ninety tunnels were found by the IDF and destroyed (and those were the ones they found). Since Israel left, Hamas has been able to dig unhindered.

But Westerveldt didn’t notice any of this. According to him, the Subway was built to supply Gaza residents suffering under the Israeli ‘siege’. The story begins as follows:

Israel imposed an economic blockade on Gaza when the radical Islamic group Hamas seized control last year. To bring in goods — from weapons to cigarettes — smugglers are using tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border.

Then it goes on to describe the huge enterprise — controlled and taxed by Hamas — which carries everything from appliances to zoo animals, emphasizing the privations of Gazans under ‘siege’, forced to buy tacky, low-quality plastic Egyptian shoes.

There was only one more reference to weapons, something like “Israeli officials say the tunnels are used to smuggle rockets and explosives”.

So in other words, the Sinai Subway is not primarily a supply line for Hamas’ Iranian-financed military buildup, but rather a reaction to Israeli limitations on access! The story is not about how Hamas is preparing for war with Israel, but rather about how Israel is oppressing the Palestinians.

But the ‘blockade’ is a response to Hamas rocket attacks — more than 200 rockets fell in Sderot and Ashkelon last week. So one could say that the tunnels — at least the contents thereof — caused the blockcade, rather than vice versa.

As usual, NPR gets it backwards.

Update [1532 PDT]: I titled this post “NPR’s original take on the Sinai Subway”, but actually it isn’t original at all. Substantially the same piece appeared in Al Jazeera on October 5.

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