Nancy Hartevelt Kobrin
Psychoanalyst & Counter Terrorist Expert

Their Tunnels and Our “Psychological” Protective Edge

Dictionary of Desperanto

Entry: The Tunnel

How terrorists like Hamas violently bond with their enemy, reveals a lot about their early childhood experiences and the culture in which they grew up. Least we forget building tunnels was also a favorite pastime of Osama Bin Laden.

Their fixation on tunnels is revealing. While the tunnel is a tactical tool in their terrorist tool box, it also packs a powerful nonverbal UNCONSCIOUS punch which has not been understood by the media in general nor the lay population in particular.

This kind of terrorist tunnel is more than just a tactical tool. It is also an object which links back to childhood deprivation. About the use of the tunnel as an unconscious object is not something the terrorists themselves understand. They are dense and concrete in their behavior and infantile in their thinking.

In Object Relations Theory an object can be directly linked to the human body. In a baby’s developing mind, bodily experiences attach to objects. This is known as a part object function. In my most recent book THE MATERNAL DRAMA OF THE CHECHEN JIHADI I discuss how in shame honor cultures one can never get one’s needs met in an appropriate way. Needs are considered “dirty” like feces. It makes one feel impure and hence extremely anxious. They must split off and project their dirty feelings into the other. Hamas misuses the tunnel as an object as not all tunnels are bad and destructive.

In my previous blog I looked at Hamas and Islamic Jihad’s rocket launching competition as a pissing match. With the tunnel, the focus shifts from urine to shit. Their obsession with anality points to something extremely troubling about their childhoods because not all Palestinians condone Hamas’ behavior indicating that some received better earlier experiences and hence less deprivation.

As my colleague Joan Lachkar, PhD put it: “Hamas bonds to us through their anus not through their hearts. Whatever they do, it all turns out to be shit. We then see the shit and hence the shame.”

Indeed the Green Prince, the son of Hamas, Mosab Hassan Yousef, said that “Shame is the greatest enemy.” He understood Arab Muslim culture. He had also been raped by one of his own family members. He said he could not even tell his mother because it would bring shame on the family.

If I had a child in play therapy who was obsessed with making tunnels and then destroying them, I would wonder about what he was trying to tell me concerning his bodily experience — his utter lack of safety, trust and unbearable rage? Rape rage?

Has it been hard for us to accept the unconscious communication concerning the tunnels? Did it delay us from acting sooner? We may never know. We do the best we can under such adverse circumstances. However, unlike the rockets, the tunnels are terrifying in a different way. The terrorists suddenly appear out of no where exiting from these tunnels and start firing as my colleague Susan Stein observed. It becomes a lethal game of whack-a-mole. There is no red alert. With the rockets, we have Kippat Barzel, the Iron Dome. True, the rockets are grandiose and omnipotent. The tunnels are not. They are crass and concrete showing their impoverished mental world, unconscious and underground.

Perhaps it has been easier too, to develop a technology to counter Hamas’ rockets but harder psychologically to do so for the tunnels? Could it be that it has been easier to develop Kippat Barzel, the Iron Dome, because it has such good psychological and cultural fit? Headgear in Judaism is called the kippah. The technology covers our head both symbolically and in fact. We are still trying to find a technology which will more effectively to deal with the tunnels.

As of now our troops in Gaza must tediously and dangerously dismantle the tunnels. We are forced once again to deal with Hamas’ shit. But what Hamas doesn’t get, is that, we understand their tragic infantile behavior. This gives us is a special psychological “protective” edge which is complementary to and synergistic with our military Protective Edge.

It might seem unseemly to many to contemplate this kind of symbolic meaning for the Hamas tunnel as a perverse expression of bonding. Yet only by treating the root of the problem, can the violence be stopped in the long term. Hamas is desperate. We see their shame while they try to make us feel it. To know this allows for us to disengage from being at risk of developing the Stockholm Syndrome, a severe identification with such aggression. This is the aim of terrorism to make us submit so that we are no longer a thinking feeling people, a people without a heart.

About the Author
Dr. Kobrin made aliyah in 2010 and is an internationally renowned counterterrorism expert and psychoanalyst holding a PhD in Islamic literature, aljamía 16th c. Author of five books. She has conducted prison interviews, a former military contractor with an academic appointment as external expert at La Universidad de Granada. She is a senior research analyst for The Islamic Theology of Counter Terrorism Center. She also works in citizen diplomacy. In August 2020 she was the first Israeli to be live-streamed from Islamabad.