Wednesday, January 23, 2008

350,000 Gazans stream into Egypt - situation explosive: an analysis (updated!)

According to the United Nations, some 350,000 Gazans have streamed into Egypt after Hamas militants blew up dozens of holes in the metal wall which separated Gaza from Egypt. Most of the wall is now destroyed.

Obviously, while this is good news for the Gazans starved by the Israeli blockade, this development is also full of potential dangers.

It is unlikely that Hamas will stop the firing of Kassam rockets across the border into Israel unless Israel agrees to stop the bombings and 'targeted assassinations' it has been conducing for months in Gaza. Israel has refused, so far, to agree to a ceasefire. With its blockade of Gaza now partially, but not fully, compromised, Israel has a number of different, but equally dangerous options facing it.

1) Retaking control of the Gaza-Egyptian border and re-building the wall. That would be a potentially dangerous operation which could potentially involved the Egyptian forces whose loyalty to the Mubarak regime cannot be counted on. However, from a military point of view this is a no-brainer. The Rafah crossing is just a couple of miles for the Israeli border and shutting it down would not even require a re-invasion of Gaza itself.

2) Getting Mubarak to do Israel's dirty job for them. Using Egyptian forces to re-close the border would be politically very dangerous for Mubarak (who is already sitting on an Islamist powder keg himself) and could result in the violence spreading into Egypt proper.

3) Using other, unspecified, forces (EU, USA, NATO, etc.). Frankly, that is not an option at all. These forces would be either unreliable or sitting ducks for Hamas strikes.

4) Israel could use that pretext to re-invade Gaza or, at least, large chunks of it. That is, alas, probably the most feasible option for the Israelis as from a purely military perspective the opening of the border does not fundamentally alter the equation.

5) Do nothing and just demand that the Egyptians fix the problem. That is, so far, what the Israelis have done and there is some logic to this: it avoids a massive military involvement and it is politically convenient, at least in the short term, as it places the burden to take action on others. Also, we should mention here that unless the Egyptians and Palestinians do some engineering work together the destruction of the border will not completely ease the blockade: the "heavy" issues of sewage, electricity and gas will not be fixed by people crossing the border.

What is certain is that time is of the essence. The longer this border remains in Hamascontrol the harder it will be for anyone to close it down again. So what will happen if the border does remain open?

That might look like a tempting idea for the Israelis: just make Gaza Mubarak's problem, just give it to the Egyptians and make it their headache. Except that the Palestinians are not Egyptians, except that Hamas has absolutely no desire or incentive to comply with any Egyptian demands or terms, not after having successfully liberated Gaza from the Israelis, except that Gaza will never be Egyptian. And this is the key factor which needs to be fully appreciated:

Gaza is now the first successfully liberated part of Palestine. It was liberated without any deals with, or concessions to, the occupying forces and it was liberated by the force of arms. Unless the Israelis re-occupy Gaza there is nothing which can alter this reality.

Hamas, alone and isolated, achieved in a short time Gaza what the PLO and Fatah failed to achieve in many years in spite of their endless and protracted negotiations with the occupier, concessions, brutal internal repression, in spite of the full support of the US imperial might and in spite of the Saudi money. Gaza is now the living monument to the futility of negotiating with Israel and the USA, the living proof that the collaborationist policies of Fatah only benefited Abbas and his Ramallah minions.

In the short term, there can, alas, be no doubt as to the best course of action for Israel: re-occupy most, if not all, of Gaza. That, however, is in total contradiction with the over-arching main Israeli political priority: to retain a Jewish majority in Israel while avoiding the kind of collapse which brought down the Apartheid regime in South Africa.

Hamas has been extremely skilled at bringing out this fundamental contradiction between the short term and long term goals of Israel. Hamas has brilliantly played the "Gaza' card and has succeeded in thwarting the plans of Israel, Fatah, Mubarak, the USA, the Saudis, the EU and everybody else from the so called "international community".

One has to give credit where credit is due: for the first time since the creation of Israel, the Palestinian people appear to be in the process of producing a force and a strategy which might force the Israelis to sit down and, for the first time ever, seriously negotiate with the Palestinians to achieve by mutual agreement what they failed to achieve by force and terror.

My guess is that currently the Israelis are simply not ready to look reality in the eye and that they will go for a short term fix: re-occupy Gaza. Olmert and his clique are just not the kind of people who are capable of vision, nor are they politically strong enough to appear to "negotiate with terrorists" (they could not even negotiate to free Gilad Shalit!).

It appears that at least for the foreseeable future, there will be a lot more blood uselessly shed only because the Israelis are arrogant, delusional and, frankly, plain stupid. However, the "writing is on the wall" and no amount of short term terror will wipe it off: Israel will eventually have to sit down and sue for peace with the real representatives of the Palestinian people.
Also check out this very good Al-Jazeera report on the latest developments:

Update: I just found this insightful commentary in the discussion of a
Haaretz article about the situation:

Title:The March of Folly - we never learn ...
City: HaifaState:
By acting foolishly and arrogantly, we have brought this upon ourselves. By pushing innocent Gazans into an inhuman and undeserved corner, what did we expect them to do? sit and freeze and starve? Maybe now we`ll realise that there IS a government in Gaza, even if we don`t like it, and begin dealing with them in a pragmatic way - they have a lot to lose, and can and should be held accountable for their actions.
But Israel`s government should also be held accountable for ITS actions. Hopefully we will see Mr Olmert resign very shortly ... though I doubt it somehow.