Sunday, January 27, 2008

Gaza Gotcha


By  Ami Isseroff

Israel should have known that the Gaza border breach into Egypt, planned a long time in advance by the Hamas, was coming. All of the laws of nature that operate in the Middle East are in operation in Gaza, and it is certain that the Hamas in Gaza, like the Hezbullah in Lebanon, are in full control of the situation.

Of course it is all spin. Gazans are "escaping" from their "jail" to Egypt and going on a shopping spree because prices in Egypt are 50% cheaper. For that it really pays to blow holes in concrete and beat up border guards. Who ever heard of a "siege" where prices were increased by only 50%? And the lights went out in Gaza because the Hamas put them out, and for no other reason. But all this, along with the ritual UN Human Rights Commission condemnation of Israel, was only to be expected. This is the environment in which we operate, and the antics of the Hamas are their stock in trade. They play to a receptive audience. All over the world, people vilified Israel and rejoiced at the salvation of the poor people of Gaza, at last free to stock up on the bare necessities of every Gaza family: Milk, bread, cigarettes, diapers, humus, ful, Ak-47 ammo, Qassam rocket fuel ingredients, RPGs, anti-tank rockets and other common Middle East staples and comestibles. All the human rights groups and all the peace-loving people of the world were quite content to share in the good fortune of the Gazans.

It is all spin because terror groups almost always accomplish their work through spin and PR. Even the most spectacular and horrendous terror attacks do not conquer territory and do not generally conquer cities. They create mass panic and mass media attention. They give the terrorists media attention out of proportion to their real power by manipulating the media. But the spin has real results, and Israel failed utterly to take into account the probably results of its actions, or to predict and try to prevent the probable course of Hamas actions. Israel's policy has been to wait and to react, while the Hamas has created a succession of "facts" that the world is quite willing to live with, and that the Israeli government appears to tolerate.

The first "fact" was not created by Hamas, but by Israeli ineptitude. Israel withdrew from Gaza, but allowed the "international community" to continue to view Gaza as occupied by Israel. That made the withdrawal worse than pointless, because while Israel lost control, it retained responsibility. But Israel acquiesced in this situation, which inevitably had to lead to Israel supplying fuel and food and electricity to what is essentially an enemy state. Some Israeli commentators, and perhaps some people in the government, believe that the border breach ends Israeli responsibility for Gaza somehow. It is not a well-founded belief. "International law" is whatever the "international community" - in this case, the Libyan controlled UN Human Rights Council apparently, determines it is. Israel could, in theory, demand to know (from whom?) what conditions would have to be in place in order for Israel to be absolved of responsibility for Gaza. In practice, the answer would probably be that Israel cannot get rid of Gaza unless there is a Palestinian state there. Maybe not even then.

The second "fact" was the participation of Hamas in the Palestinian elections, forced on Israel by the United States. This was followed in quick succession by the Hamas victory and the Hamas dominated unity government. Israel, the United States and the "international community sat and watched all this happening as though they were spectators at a movie.

Alongside these facts, the fact of Palestinian rocket fire was established, and the ground rules of the game were written. The rules are - the Arabs fire rockets, and Israel can do anything it likes except stop the rocket fire. Again, Israel acquiesced. A Pallywood Gaza beach "massacre" ensured sufficient world indignation at Israel to deter further serious action.

In June, Hamas overthrew the Fatah in a bloody coup. Another fact was established, and once again Israel did virtually nothing. Each time the ineffective "siege" of Gaza was tightened a bit, and Israel and the "international community" considered that it had the situation in hand. The reasons for the siege were soon forgotten around the world, and the Hamas and its supporters made sure that people remembered the "siege" itself, all the while smuggling in whatever it pleased them to bring into Gaza.

All the while, the rockets were pouring down on Sderot and the Western Negev, and the weapons were being smuggled into Gaza, Israel was supplying the needs of the Gazans, and the world was being treated to an unending PR campaign about the starving Gazans. All that Israel could think of to end this situation was to kill a few terrorist honchos and in a final move of desperation, to stop sending fuel oil for the Hamas Executive force. That last move was too much for the UN, and it provided the Hamas with the perfect backdrop for its long rehearsed "jail break."

Here's how the latest Hamas "fact" was created:

A few hours before the steel wall along the border with Egypt was blown up Thursday, a Palestinian security official placed a phone call to his Egyptian counterparts. He provided them - for the second time within a week - with a tip about Hamas' decision to blow up the wall. Hamas activists had prepared for the explosion for months, using a special chemical mixture that they concocted to melt the steel, reported the Times of London.

The intelligence warning the Egyptians were given was relayed while Hamas activists were busy laying the bombs. The Egyptian intelligence officials thanked the Palestinian officer and promised him that they would prepare accordingly, sources say.

One of the Palestinian border guards, Lt. Abu-Osama from the Palestinian National Security Service, said that the wall collapsed within a moment, after it was bombed in 17 different locations. "I saw them preparing for the moment of the explosion for months," said Lt. Abu-Osama. "It happened in the course of the day but it was concealed so that no one would see." When he was asked why he didn't report that, Lt. Abu-Osama replied: "It was the government that did that. Who was I going to report it to?"

The denouement of the latest Hamas "fact" is unclear. Egypt announced that it was definitely going to close the Gaza border, and then it announced that it is definitely not going to close the Gaza border. What was it all for? The object of the exercise was this:

On Saturday, Hamas made an offer to Egypt to restore the Gaza Strip's ruptured border through direct diplomacy with Cairo, challenging a plan by rival Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to assume control.

"We are offering an alternative, which is the operation of Rafah crossing, and we are ready to coordinate this with the Egyptian government," senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri told reporters, referring to a key terminal at a frontier town.

"The situation at the Rafah border is temporary and exceptional," he added.

A Hamas source said free movement across Rafah "is expected to last as long as it takes for an understanding to be reached between Hamas and the Egyptian government over the re-operation".

Abbas has said he had a plan for assuming control of Gaza's border crossings that would relieve the clampdown which followed Hamas' rout of his forces in the coastal territory last June.

Abbas, whose mandate is now effectively reduced to the West Bank, said he would urge Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to accept his offer at a meeting in Jerusalem on Sunday, meant to advance peacemaking.


Another "fact on the ground" would be established. But this one would not be a little step in the accretion of deteriorating conditions. Like an evolutionary mechanism, many small changes would bring about a new and terrible species. Many small steps for Gazans into Sinai. A giant step for terrorism. Hamas would not gain only an open border through which it could freely import arms. Hamas would gain de facto recognition as the government of Gaza. A terror mini-state would be born in Gaza. Was this a planned and coordinated squeeze play, giving Israel a choice between Abbas and Hamas, or is it part of Hamas-Fatah rivalry? Does it matter? Could the PA forces of Abbas really effectively control the Rafah border?

And what would Egypt do? Don't count on Egypt, as they have been cozying up to Iran of late.

Meanwhile here is another "fact" that may be about to be created:

Early Thursday, Jan. 24, American forces and equipment withdrew from the Multi-force Organization base at Al Gura northeast of al Arish when they learned from Egyptian contacts that Hamas had begun moving some of its elite units into the new stronghold. Washington and Cairo are discussing evacuating the entire base and its 400 multinational personnel, which monitors Sinai's demilitarization under the Egypt-Israel peace treaty, for fear of Hamas and al Qaeda missile fire and shelling of the base.

That is from Debkafiles, which we can choose to believe or not believe, but it could very well happen. As the US has shown before on a few occasions, in the Middle East, it operates on the principle that "when the going gets tough, the US gets the hell out in a hurry." If it happens, then another "fact on the ground" would be established: The multinational force that guarantees the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt would be gone.

This is a major crisis that affects a vital Israeli security concern. It would bring into being a terrorist entity more vicious, if less powerful, than Nasser's Egypt ever was. It is not as dramatic as closing the Straits of Tiran, to be sure. It is war conducted in little increments of facts on the ground, by a clever enemy. They closed the straits of Tiran, so to speak, bit by bit. While Israel thought it was choking Hamas, Hamas was choking Israel. In the end, a bit of explosives and chemicals and ingenuity may have overcome all the tanks and missiles and sophisticated gadgetry of the IDF. A few raucous air-headed demonstrators and UN bodies controlled by a renegade dictatorial state overcame the diplomatic clout of the United States. It was accomplished by the Hamas, but it could hardly have been possible, at least in the most recent stages, without the cooperation of the Egyptians.

We could imagine what might have happened in the days of Yitzhak Rabin, David Ben-Gurion or Levi Eshkol. Foreign Ministers would be flying to Washington. Lights would be burning late at night deep in the pit of the Defense Ministry. Little brown envelopes would appear in people's mailboxes, and all over Israel, telephones would ring at all hours of the night. Tank carriers would be rumbling ominously southward.

But Israel is doing practically nothing. IDF announced a military alert in the Gaza/Egypt border area, but that is apparently Israeli spin. No Israeli troops were to be seen in the supposedly closed areas. Other than the apparently fake defense alert and begging the Egyptians politely to kindly close the border, the government can't seem to think of anything it ought to do. With every minute that slips by, the open border in Gaza becomes an increasingly solid and permanent fact, even if it was a fact created out of spin. If in the end, we are going to capitulate to the Hamas, we may as well save suffering, lives, time and money and do it now.

If Israel had a policy, or if someone was presenting policy alternatives, we could discuss their merits. But nobody has really been presenting realistic alternatives. Delivering an ultimatum to Egypt is one option. At least, saying that if they do not close the border, Israel would have to do so, would get some people thinking. Allowing the Palestinian authority to police the borders may be a bad option, but it is not worse than complete chaos that reigns now. Invading Gaza to seal the borders is another option, but this would inevitably lead to a larger clash with Hamas and the need to take over all of Gaza, which would inevitably lead to a UN condemnation and withdrawal from Gaza, minus perhaps a hundred or more lives lost in battle.

Placing the problem in the lap of the UN or the quartet or the US is another option. If they fail to act, then perhaps Israel would have created the diplomatic support needed for an Israeli takeover in Gaza. If they do act, they probably would not be effective, and there would be Qassam rockets on Sderot, just as there are now, or the Hamas would quietly increase its power behind an international shield. But if Israel doesn't do anything at all, it is certain that there will be Qassam rockets, followed by Grad rockets and Katyusha rockets, and it is certain that Hamas would increase its power. If Hamas forms a mini-state in Gaza, we can expect a lot worse than Katyushah rockets. Sooner or later there will be a confrontation, and the longer it is postponed, the more severe it will be.

Doing nothing is not an option, but it appears to be the one chosen by the government.

Ami Isseroff

Original content is Copyright by the author 2008.

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