Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Reactions to the Gaza Crisis

Israel, Egypt, and the Gaza Strip (CNN)

One thing that I consider a very positive development is the Egyptian and French participation in the negotiations to secure the release of the kidnapped soldier. I do not know how long they will maintain their involvement, but it can only be welcomed.

The Egyptians realize that an escalation in the Gaza Strip is not in their interest. My guess is that Mubarak wants to avoid a repeat of the mass demonstrations that broke out in Cairo at the height of the Al-Aqsa Intifada. When I was in Cairo more than a year ago, the intifada seemed to be a little less on the minds of Egyptians. I do recall passing through one village saturated with fading posters of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin (by then dead) on my way to a Coptic Monastery outside of Cairo. Another good reason for the Egyptians to get involved in Gaza is that not doing so will bite them in the behind at some point. At least one of the bombers involved in the terrorist attacks from Dahab was from the Gaza Strip or received his explosives there, from what I recall. I have never understood why the Egyptian security forces are not cracking down harder on the rampant smuggling of weapons and other goods (including prostitutes) from the Sinai into the Gaza Strip often via a network of tunnels. Perhaps economic considerations are part of it: I did not get the impression that the economy of the Sinai, except for the tourist resorts, is doing very well. Maybe the economy of the northern Sinai depends on the revenue derived from smuggling and the authorities simply do not want to rock the boat too much and turn a blind eye to what is going on. It's clear that smuggling is a major business.

An article by Doron Almog, published in Summer 2004 in the Middle East Quarterly (XI:3) says that the smuggling networks involved extend all the way to the Nile Delta and probably involve the Muslim Brotherhood and other sympathizers of the Palestinian struggle. Writing in 2004, Almog accused the Egyptian government of failing to crack down on cross-border smuggling in order to support the Palestinian "resistance" and in order to channel the energies of local extremists elsewhere. I really wonder if the Egyptians have changed their perspective since the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and since the rise of Hamas. After all, Hamas is a movement that the Egyptian regime, which totally supressed the Muslim Brotherhood in the last parliamentary elections, does not like and does not want to strengthen.


-canuck- said...

When will the Israelis finally realise that this is a war? It is harsh justice to push the Gaza 'refugees' back into Egypt and the West-Bank 'refugees' into Jordan.

However, is it any less painfull than a continued intifada (terrorism) that will last until the powers that support Hamas gain enough strength wipe out the Israli nation? The intifada that has claimed so many lives on both sides.

It is painful to yank a rotten tooth but in time the pain goes away.

When Hamas and IMS speak of 'ending the occupation' they are not speaking of Bethlehem and Gaza they are speaking of Haifa and Tel Aviv.

Perhaps it is time to end their 'occupation'. Have Arafat or Hamas shown any willingness at all to leave peacefully next to Israel? I see jolly little evidence for this.

Please correct me if I am wrong.

Was it not Golda Meir who said something to the effect of - Better a harsh editorial than a glowing obituary - ?

Let the Jordanians, Syrians and Egyptians deal with the Palestinian problem.

Call it 'tough love' if you must.

John said...

Well, I don't think that the types of scenarios that you mentioned in your first paragraph are an option. There is no way that Israel can force such large numbers of civilians to relocate, especially not into Egypt and Jordan, without becoming a pariah state. Think, also,about the effects this will have on those two states, especially Jordan (I'm sure you know the effects, but think that overturning the Hashemite monarchy is not bad for Israel - well, I disagree, especialy in light of the Hashemite cooperation against terrorism) Aside from it being completely unrealistic at this stage, in the present context, forcing hundreds of thousands of people from their homes is anything but just. Israel can't afford to become a regime like Saddam's Iraq or present-day Sudan.

Derek said...

I am confused and seriously saddened by the attacks on civilian infrastructure by the IAF and IDF. What is their goal in this incursion? If "punishment" is really the goal (it's certainly the perceived goal) I can't understand why the US doesn't get mad.

The White House on Wednesday called for the release of the soldier. Mr. Bush's spokesman, Tony Snow, said that Hamas had been "complicit in perpetrating violence" and that Israel had the right to defend itself.

Mr. Snow said the Bush administration was urging Israel to ensure "that innocent civilians are not harmed" and to "avoid the unnecessary destruction of property and infrastructure." But he chose his words with precision, steering clear of questions about whether the Israeli response had been appropriate.


What does Isreal intend to get out of this? Does Tony Snow know some truth that is just too difficult for me to understand??

John said...

I'm going to try to answer more comprehensively later, but in my mind the incursion makes perfect sense and was pretty much inevitable. The destruction of the power station is above all a signal to the Hamas government. The Israelis are clearly trying to shake up that government and to stir people up against it. Israel wants public opinion in the Gaza Strip to turn against Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the "Popular Resistance Committees" by holding them accountable for their hardships.

Officially, the Israelis said that they want to make it harder for the kidnappers of the soldier taken hostage to operate and to smuggle him into Egypt. Israeli troops are now in the southern Gaza Strip, on the border with Egypt, mostly in open areas removed from urban centers. But it's clear that what is going on now has been on the table for a while and that the kidnapping only served as a trigger.

There were people who thought that Hamas, with all its firepower and discipline and legitimacy would be able to better control what is going on in the Gaza Strip. But all that's happening is that more militant members of Hamas have split off from it, while the Popular Resistance Committees continue operating. There's no sign that the Hamas government wants to dissociate itself from these groups, or that it can afford to do so. So what is the Israeli government to do?

BTW, the alternative to an ground-based incursion is more use of the air force (or nothing).

Derek said...

(not sarcastic...) I would like to hear about a situation in which this tactic was sucessful; that attacking the civilian infrastructure will turn the people against the hardliners in the government and not rally people behind them. I realize that no Palestinian on the radio is going to vocalize this, but when you look at long term Palestinian sentiments, and the recent election I don't think they are too far off from the actual feelings.

Tactics aside I fail to comprehend the full strategic goals of this campaign, and I suspect that they will only imbolden a Hamas government that was starting to show lots of signs of weakness to the Palestinian people. This move will ferment the people behind Palestinians.

George Bush, an incompetent leader with low polls jumped to 89% after 9/11. Is it really more complicated than this? Sure the Palestinians are in a much worse state, but that only seems to embolden their nihlistic position. Most people seem to support the kidnapping. No one is saying "Man I wish Hamas would stop this shit. Israel would then just leave us alone." It's more about dignity and emotions.

Do you think that the incursion is taking this into account? or are they just trying to win a war of attrition?

John said...

Derek, it IS a war of attrition, no doubt about it. Both sides are engaged in attempts to wear each other down and to force each other to give up certain principles that they see as vital parts of their identity or as vital to their interests. The means they employ to do so are different.

I'd like to remind you of Operation "Defensive Shield" which many doves (including myself) at first decried as unnecessary. In fact, after that operation, which involved a massive incursion into the West Bank, into urban centres, the number of terrorist attacks began to decline. Of course, the fence has also contributed in part. But the consistent pressure on the terrorist organizations and on Palestinians in general did demoralize them. No one can keep fighting indefinitely. It's premature to say if Defensive Shield was a turning point, but in the short term, it has certainly made a difference. It's the main reason why people began to talk about the failure of the intifada.

Israelis are of course also not immune to attrition. The major changes in the Israeli political map (breakup of the old Likud into two parties) attested to this fact.

People got sick of 'Arafat and the reason was not that he was perceived as a moderate. It could very well be that in a few more years, he will once again be revived as a major symbol in Palestinian nationalist mythology, but in years following his death, the commemorations of Arafat have been rather low key. Now that Hamas has assumed power, it is not immune from public disenchantment with it... Revolutions are often followed by reversals.

Amos said...

I think that Israel is trying to force the Palestinian leadership to start acting like a state. The attack on the Israeli base at Keren Shalom was a clear casus belli. If Pakistan had mounted an operation like this into India, you can be sure that the Indian army would have responded with operations of its own. It is true that the Israeli response has affected the lives of Palestinian civilians. But civilian infrastructure (NOT civilians themselves) are certainly legitimate targets in a war. I, for one, supported the NATO bombing of the power plant in Belgrade. Members of Hamas and other terrorist groups stupidly provoked Israel by launching a sophisticated military operation into its territory (for what reason exactly? perhaps to win more public support?). As a result, those whom these groups regard as their constituency are suffering. I think that Palestinians DO recognize that this suffering was brought upon them by the irresponsible actions of the militant factions, which operated with approval by members of Hamas. The failure of the current government to control the factions, made obvious by the continuing Qassam attacks, testifies to its weakness.