How can Israel’s encirclement of Gaza City work if Hamas fighters can simply head south via tunnel?

A question for armchair general readers… We are informed that the IDF has surrounded Gaza City, is engaged in urban combat, and is hoping to kill or capture Islamic Resistance Movement (“Hamas”) and Palestinian Islamic Jihad soldiers (“freedom fighters” or “terrorists”, depending on your perspective; 300 University of California professors, who are also designing the state’s K-12 curriculum, say that the heroes of October 7 were fighting for freedom and are definitely not “terrorists” (letter)) via standard military encirclement tactics.

We were previously informed that there is an extensive tunnel network underneath Gaza. A CNN story reports a Hamas claim of having more than 300 miles of tunnels.

What stops the Hamas fighters from simply evading the IDF by proceeding south via tunnel? Once in the southern zone, the fighters can melt into the population that elected Hamas and continues to support Hamas according to opinion polls (example).

Has the IDF already cut the north-south tunnel links?

In other Gaza mysteries… here are Palestinian doctors giving a press conference in which they talk about how horrible Jewish doctors are:

Four weeks ago, we were told that the hospitals in Gaza had just a few days of fuel left for their generators. October 17, United Nations: “Fuel reserves at all hospitals across Gaza are expected to last for an additional 24 hours only.” Yet this video shows lights on, fully charged mobile phones, and clean scrubs that appear to be fresh from the washer/dryer. We are also told that Gaza has been without Internet for 32 days (example), yet a continuous stream of video content emerges from Gaza. (See also, a November 8 broadcast from the ICRC, in which people in clean clothes (both patients and health care workers) move around under blazing overhead lights.)

Paul Graham, of Y Combinator fame, has been dutifully posting press releases from Hamas regarding deaths among the noble Gazans at the hands of the genocidal Jews. Others seem to accept the relevance of body counts, but question whether Hamas is a reliable source. Graham then cites some people who think, as he does, that Hamas is a reliable source. Example:

My response to the above:

One of the first things young doctors learn in training is “don’t order a test unless you know what you’re going to do with the result”. You’ve gathered and broadcast various body counts on one side of an active ongoing battle. What is the practical value of these numbers? Is there a threshold number at which you are planning to take some action or think that, e.g., NATO and the U.S. military should take some action? If so, what’s the threshold and the proposed action?

Graham didn’t answer, of course. From the United Nations side, the answer is never “Hamas should surrender and release its hostages,” but always “there should be a ceasefire [during which Hamas can be resupplied].” Is that the guaranteed subtext of all of these reports of casualties among Gazan fighters and civilians? If so, could Hamas achieve victory simply by killing a lot of civilians and making it look like Israel did it? Suppose that Hamas puts implosion charges around some apartment buildings and detonates them, for example, causing 10,000 civilians to die. Then Gazans use the Internet and electric power that we’re told they don’t have to broadcast images of the destruction. Then General Joe Biden uses the U.S. military to force the Israeli military to withdraw.

(Some more posts from Paul Graham:

A grim month: 31 Israeli and at least 3600 Palestinian children have been killed since October 7. (link)

Is there a threshold number of their constituents’ children dying that should motivate Hamas to surrender? Graham doesn’t say.

One gauge of the civilian toll in Gaza so far: At least 72 United Nations staffers have been killed in Gaza so far, the UN says. Whatever that is, it’s not surgical. (a repost)

Graham was thinking that all fighters in Gaza have RFID tags implanted, thus enabling the IDF to target only estimated 50,000-ish Gazans who carry guns for Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad?

Graham reposted an article suggesting that Gazans do not support Hamas (which makes the IDF a liberation force?).

A November 2 tweet from Graham himself:

I didn’t get “Turn the other cheek” when I was a kid. Why let people hit you? But when you combine it with “Hurt people hurt people,” you see the point. You have to absorb hurt instead of merely reflecting it, or it just keeps cycling around forever. (link)

A suggestion that Israel ignore the cross-border excursion of October 7 in the same way that the U.S. ignores the daily cross-border excursions of noble migrants? An accusation that Palestinian Islamic Jihad members are defective “hurt people” rather than brave fighters for what they believe and for what is written in the Koran?

One in which Graham seems to agree with the idea that Israel is killing civilians intentionally and without any military goal (if true, why doesn’t Israel bomb the various outdoor mass gatherings of Gazans that we see on Twitter, Instagram, and Tiktok? The IDF could kill thousands of civilians with one bomb if that were its strategy):

Graham reposts an accusation about Israel’s purported “ethnic cleansing” plans. To my knowledge, he has never posted about Kuwait’s cleansing of 400,000 Palestinians in 1991 (Wikipedia) nor about Pakistan’s recent cleansing of 1.7 million Afghans.

Here’s a curious one:

It’s not a sufficient defense of activism to claim that it “increases awareness” of a problem. There are forms of activism that increase awareness and yet set back efforts to solve the problem.

Graham won’t leave his comfortable UK/US homes to help the Gazans defend against the Israeli aggression that he highlights (i.e., increases awareness about).

Graham reposts content from a nonprofit organization that doesn’t want Hamas stripped of its human shields in Gaza City:

Graham’s first posts about the battles in and near Gaza were on October 11. Example:

The events of October 7 were not “a humanitarian catastrophe” for anyone (as far as I can tell, Graham never posted anything about the Hamas freedom fighters’ October 7 operation in which Israeli civilians were the victims). The “humanitarian catastrophe” is that people embroiled in a war will be short of electricity for a while.

(A Ukrainian friend after reviewing the Paul Graham oeuvre: “These people weren’t posting like maniacs when half of Ukraine was without power for several days, including including dozens of hospitals in EACH city.”)

That’s your analysis of world events from the Great Statesman of California Tech.

Circling back, so to speak, to the main topic of this post… how is encircling an enemy effective when the enemy has tunnels leading to safe spaces with millions of friendly civilians on the ground?


  • “Behind Hamas’s Bloody Gambit to Create a ‘Permanent’ State of War” (NYT, today): Thousands have been killed in Gaza, with entire families wiped out. Israeli airstrikes have reduced Palestinian neighborhoods to expanses of rubble … But in the bloody arithmetic of Hamas’s leaders, the carnage is not the regrettable outcome of a big miscalculation. Quite the opposite, they say: It is the necessary cost of a great accomplishment — the shattering of the status quo and the opening of a new, more volatile chapter in their fight against Israel. It was necessary to “change the entire equation and not just have a clash,” Khalil al-Hayya, a member of Hamas’s top leadership body, told The New York Times in Doha, Qatar. “We succeeded in putting the Palestinian issue back on the table, and now no one in the region is experiencing calm.” … “I hope that the state of war with Israel will become permanent on all the borders, and that the Arab world will stand with us,” Taher El-Nounou, a Hamas media adviser, told The Times. … [the October 7 attack] broke a longstanding tension within Hamas about the group’s identity and purpose. Was it mainly a governing body — responsible for managing day-to-day life in the blockaded Gaza Strip — or was it still fundamentally an armed force, unrelentingly committed to destroying Israel and replacing it with an Islamist Palestinian state? … “Hamas’s goal is not to run Gaza and to bring it water and electricity and such,” said Mr. al-Hayya, the politburo member. “Hamas, the Qassam and the resistance woke the world up from its deep sleep and showed that this issue must remain on the table.”
  • “Dabblers And Blowhards”, a 2005 look at Paul Graham’s “Hackers and Painters”: Computer programmers cause a machine to perform a sequence of transformations on electronically stored data. Painters apply colored goo to cloth using animal hairs tied to a stick. … Great paintings, for example, get you laid in a way that great computer programs never do. Even not-so-great paintings – in fact, any slapdash attempt at splashing paint onto a surface – will get you laid more than writing software, especially if you have the slightest hint of being a tortured, brooding soul about you. For evidence of this I would point to my college classmate Henning, who was a Swedish double art/theatre major and on most days could barely walk. Also remark that in painting, many of the women whose pants you are trying to get into aren’t even wearing pants to begin with. Your job as a painter consists of staring at naked women, for as long as you wish, and this day in and day out through the course of a many-decades-long career. Not even rock musicians have been as successful in reducing the process to its fundamental, exhilirating essence.
Posted in War

15 thoughts on “How can Israel’s encirclement of Gaza City work if Hamas fighters can simply head south via tunnel?

  1. Regarding tunnels to the south of Gaza. IDF combat engineers are seeking and destroying the tunnels. But Hamas operatives can just walk through open lines for civilians from North to South of Gaza, waiving white flags and ask their comrades to shoot a little for distraction, IDF will protect them.

    That was has been happening, civilians walking through humanitarian corridors south to north, Hamas shooting at the humanitarian corridors and IDF protecting the corridors.

    I think that when Hamas will be cleared from Northern Gaza, population will be let into new humanitarian camps set-up there under control of IDF and IDF will move onto Gaza south.

    • “when Hamas will be cleared from Northern Gaza, population will be let into new humanitarian camps set-up there under control of IDF and IDF will move onto Gaza south.”

      That would be a reasonable course of action, inshalla.

  2. It is because of Paul Graham that I came to this blog. His Lisp advocacy was great to read, and since I was thinking of myself as of a smart person, I thought I need language for smart people. I was googling for Greenspun’s tenth rule, so I came to Phil’s home page. At that time, I had a feeling that everybody perceives academic environment as friendly, cozy environment. I perceived it rather as psychopathic, very exploitative environment, sort of Ponzi scheme, and was often wondering if I was completely wrong, and it was just my envy. Stuff I found on this website eased my dilemma in a very funny way, I found lot of other interesting stuff, and this blog.
    Of course, I never learned Lisp (after few half-hearted attempts). A little bit of programming needs I have today, I solve with languages for idiots, JavaScript and Go, perfect for me.

  3. Does

    “I didn’t get “Turn the other cheek” when I was a kid. Why let people hit you? But when you combine it with “Hurt people hurt people,” you see the point. You have to absorb hurt instead of merely reflecting it, or it just keeps cycling around forever. ”

    apply to Hamas and the Palestinians as well? Or did I just step in a logic fallacy big enough to pack an air plane carrier in?

    • Federico: I think Paul Graham’s idea is that the Jewish side can break the cycle by following Jesus’s advice to turn the other cheek (addressed to individuals regarding personal offenses, I think, and not to nation-states with militaries). If the IDF hadn’t shown up on October 7 and made the mistake of returning fire, for example, the Palestinians who’d come through the fence would have stopped killing, raping, and kidnapping on their own. (It is unclear how that would be consistent with the Hamas charter and with recent Hamas statements that they won’t stop until Palestine is liberated from the river to the sea.)

    • Phil, it is not so that Hamas won’t stop until Palestine is liberated from the river to the sea. Hamas (and likes) won’t stop until the whole World is ruled by Islam. Regardless of that, answering violence with even more violence, will most likely produce even more more violence, unless you destroy your enemy completely. And even in that case, it might do so for spiritual reasons.
      I am afraid that following is happening: Israel would disappear without strong USA backing. UN or any other international guaranties are not worth the paper they are written on. USA are ruled by military-industrial-deep state complex. One of their visible faces are neocons. In order to survive, Israel is forced to play their game. I am afraid that Israel is escalating violence, in order to provoke Iran, so that war against Iran can be started. Very similar to how Putin was provoked. Big goal of neocons is to start war with Iran, for reasons which have nothing to do with Jew-Arab conflict.
      I consider neocons (or what they represent) to be main source of the evil in the world today, not because they are more evil then others, but because the are by far the most powerful.
      If they are using some local conflict as means for their goals, there is no way to solve that local conflict.

    • mata: Do we need a complicated explanation involving Iran? has Hamas clearly explaining its point of view (more attacks until victory over Israel is achieved, regardless of the cost to Palestinian civilians and soldiers). There is no practical reason that Palestinians can’t wage war forever because the EU and US taxpayers (via UNRWA) fund all of the essentials of day-to-day life for Palestinians. They could play Xbox all day forever or wage war on Israel forever, for example.

      We also have Israel on record as saying that it will remove Hamas from power in Gaza so as to prevent additional Oct 7-style attacks and keep fighting until Hamas is defeated.

      (I personally don’t see how the Israeli goal is achievable, given that the majority of Palestinians seem to support Hamas (by vote in the 2006 election and later via opinion polls), but I think that we can take the Israelis at their word that this is their goal.)

      Everything that has happened seems readily explainable by the above, without reference to Iran or secondary unstated motives. Maybe you’re saying that the publicly stated Israeli goal is so absurd that it can’t be the real one.

    • Israel’s battle is long, does not fit in US four year electoral cycle, likely to last another century or so. Israel is making progress there and Israel position degenerates here: Arab league seems to be more acceptive of Israel then US college students (and Iran), they explicitly stated that Arab league accepts Israel in 1967 borders, while US college students, TAs, administrators and some congresspeople want destruction of Israel from the river to the sea.
      Wonder if this is related to Arab world sending their “talent” overseas, by boat and MIT student visas.

    • Phil, my theory is just slightly more complicated, but it explains many things since at least 1967, without Iran’s role being prominent at that time, replace it with Egypt then, it does not really matter, it is about the whole region and petroleum supply (Egypt was also center of secular panarabic movement then).
      I even do not have to do hard work to explain that Israel’s stated goal is absurd, you have done it yourself: “I personally don’t see how the Israeli goal is achievable, given that the majority of Palestinians seem to support Hamas”. Not achievable unless Israel destroys it’s enemy completely, which it will never be allowed to do, even if it wanted to. Yesterday it was PLO, then Hamas was supported to eliminate PLO, today it is Hamas, who will be supported tomorrow to eliminate Hamas. Was it just incompetence that Hamas has been supported. From Israeli side maybe, from neocon side definitely not.
      You do not like that mass media is only attacking Israel, and that they have forgotten about things that Hamas has done and still does. But in the beginning it was the other way around, just for a short time. Now Israel is being attacked in the media, but it gets all military support. And Palestinian refugees had been and are well supported. Well, maybe not well, but enough to survive and cause trouble. It is all perfectly logical, to support and attack both parties simultaneously, if the goal is to perpetuate the conflict, for whichever reasons. And if some third party wants to wage Jihad, or at least pretend to be doing so, this conflict is also fantastic.
      I do not see how this could be solved. But trying to deescalate, and not giving in to spiraling of violence is probably good first step. Which I am not saying you are not doing. I am just saying that all the things that are happening are not illogical.

    • Well, it could be that my theory is a little bit like String Theory: Toggle on some parameters, and you can explain all results (always post mortem 🙂 . Accuse neocons for everything, toggle little on their motives, and you have your explanation for everything. But it could also be true, at least partially.

    • mata, you keep referring to tinfoil version of recent events: “Yesterday it was PLO, then Hamas was supported to eliminate PLO.” Israel, not Hamas, fought a war to expel PLO from South Lebanon to stop attacks form there and it was successful to do so. Reagan did prevent Israel from destroying PLO completely but under G H Bush PLO amended its goal to destroy Israel and became “peace partner”. Ans Israel propels it with money ever since. Israel did not blockade Gaza when PLO ex-arch-terrorists and ex-murderers ruled it, it blockaded it when Hamas, hostile military entity who’s main selling point to the masses is destruction of Israel, took over it. Think Israel had to re-enter Gaza right away, as it amounted to declaration of war on Israel, as Ariel Sharon promised it before giving Gaza to PLO.

    • Perplexed, almost everything that you have written is in accordance with what I have written. If Reagan allowed Israel to expel PLO from south Lebanon, and almost destroy it, and then he prevents Israel from destroying PLO completely, and then under the next USA president, PLO becomes “peace partner”, it is in perfect accordance with my theory. Where we might not agree: I think that it is a fact, that Israel backed Hamas very strongly, that after winning elections Hamas expelled PLO and all other opposition violently from Gaza, with strong support from Israel, and now you have what you have. AFAIK Phil believes it happened because of incompetence, I am not so sure about that. To me it seems to be same pattern as USA relations to Iran and to Saudi Arabia, for example. Everything that comes from Saudi Arabia is ten times worse then anything from Iran. Saudi Arabia exports most radical and violent Islam to Europe and elsewhere (Wahhabi) , cruel and violent war in Yemen … And Saudi Arabia is great friends with USA, and Iran one of top enemies of USA. With my “tinfoil” theory, as you liked to call it, it makes sense.

    • Sorry mata I did not grasp your tinfoil theory in its full depth. Maybe you can share it in full detail. Here is a little more complete description of those event far ago.

      I do not think that US “allowed” Israel to destroy PLO back then. PLO was client of USSR and Israel wars were the only military conflicts where USSR and its allies were loosing on the battlefield, before Afghanistan. I think that US helped to preserve PLO and pressured it to at least formally accept Israel as a state, during Clinton presidency but G.H Bush put a lot of effort in it, but his later confession. Later Clinton said that he was sorry that he got into Mid East instead of trying to placate North Korea instead, his legacy wise.

      Like Philip, I do not think that in the near term situation there can be fixed by real two independent states solution. Advanced autonomy for PLO state with no real democracy, maybe. But Israel should control Jordan valley and all outer borders of PLO state, along with having limits on PLO military power. Otherwise it would cause exponential 07/10 in center of modern Israel, with million, not thousand, of civilian Israeli victims.

      It sure looks like that in ME, unlike in Europe, democracy leads to more wars and harsher tyrannies.

    • Perplexed, my theory is quite simple: USA neocons are using local conflict to exert control over broader area. On the other hand, without strong USA backing, Israel would probably perish, so it is forced to go along with any USA politics. In this unfortunate situation, I do not see solution.

      Also wondering: If you think that Israel can not control the inner border between it and PLO state, and it would lead to millions of deaths, what makes you think that Israel could control outer borders of PLO state?

    • mata, nice points. Your statements falls short of a theory though.
      You may be right that on a long run Israel may not be able to control Jordan Valley: now it controls West Bank borders and rocket production and (failed) rocket attack attempts from Judea and Samaria (West Bank, but may be people are talking about west bank of Danube river? ) by the terrorists but with more effort then before.
      However if review geography involved you can see the difference between Jordan Valley and western Palestinian Authority border, on its west border Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and very densely populated Central Israel can be in cross-hairs of small artillery and mortars.

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