Wednesday, September 15, 2010

West Bank Dreams and Gaza Realities

by P. David Hornik

With the Jewish New Year, a time of prayer and reflection, falling this year from Wednesday evening through Friday, it wasn’t a very peaceful time for residents of southwestern Israel.

From Wednesday morning, just before the holiday, to Sunday morning, a total of four rockets and two mortar shells were fired from Gaza at Israeli civilian targets in the region. The mortar shell fired on Wednesday morning hit near school buildings in a kibbutz, a half-hour before children were due to arrive at the school.

If it had hit a half-hour later and caused a catastrophe, the country would have been in an uproar, Israel would have struck back at Hamas on a considerable scale, and calls for “restraint” would have issued from Washington, Turtle Bay, and Brussels.

Instead, with none of the rockets and mortars in these days exacting any physical casualties apart from the sowing of terror, Israeli warplanes on Thursday hit a couple of sites in Gaza with reports of several wounded.

Naturally, none of this was mentioned as relevant to the second round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks supposed to start on Tuesday at Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton present. Yet these events are relevant to the purported peace talks, in several regards.

One is that Gaza is a flat territory, with no hilly or mountainous parts. Much has been made about the security importance for Israel of the mountainous terrain in the West Bank. Indeed, in the case of armies invading from the east, that terrain would constitute a formidable obstacle.

Gaza, however, has no such terrain, yet in recent years thousands of projectiles have been fired from it at Israel. All of Gaza is of security importance, because missiles, rockets, and mortars can be fired from anywhere in it. In the case of an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank—now considered a sine qua non of “peace”—the same would hold true. Yet the West Bank is a much larger territory than Gaza.

Having this in mind, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has spoken of—in the event of a “peace deal” and an Israeli pullback—Israel maintaining a military presence in the Jordan Valley to prevent infiltration of terrorists and weapons. Yet the effectiveness of a line of Israeli military installations there, isolated in a sea of Arab populations—even if the Palestinians were to agree to it, and they will not—is questionable at best.

Especially in light of the fact that Egypt—finally having grown fearful of Hamas as one prong of an Iranian-led alliance that has Egypt in its sights—has been striving more seriously [3] to stop arms smuggling into Gaza, but with only mediocre results as the fire on Israel continues. Indeed, before the 2005 disengagement from Gaza, Israeli forces along the Philadelphi Route (the mere nine-mile corridor between Gaza and Egyptian Sinai) had only partial success in stopping the smuggling, with rocket and mortar fire on Israeli communities already having become a serious problem.

P. David Hornik

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