August 6, 2014
Not the least of the problems of finding any kind of solution to the plight of the Palestinians is that the Hamas zealots who control Gaza are incompetent terrorists and jihadis.
Hamas’ sole strategic objective, the purpose of its jihad, is to overrun Israel and drive its 6.1 million Jewish residents into the sea. This latest month-long conflict shows Hamas has no capacity to do that and has no idea how to go about it.
A measure of its uselessness as terrorists is that in these hours after Israel’s military withdrawal from Gaza, Hamas is being credited with a tactical victory in the conflict. The justification for that view is that Hamas fired 3,356 missiles at Israel, killed three civilians and 64 Israeli soldiers, and disrupted flights in and out of Tel Aviv airport.
This is, indeed, far more chaos than Hamas has previously been able to cause since 2007, when it took control of Gaza from the Palestinian Authority, which remains dominant in the West Bank.
But almost all the Hamas missiles were intercepted by Israel’s “iron dome” anti-missile system, which was extraordinarily efficient. Palestinian civilians were not so lucky. In the over 4,760 air strikes in Gaza and the artillery fire during the military invasion, 1,875 people were killed, 85 per cent of them civilians, according to the United Nations.
Strangely, many see the Palestinian civilian deaths as tactical victory for Hamas because it raised international anger. It prompted Washington – arguably the only capital that can exert pressure on Israel – to make some of the harshest comments heard for a long time about the actions of the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Whether Hamas purposefully courts civilian Palestinian casualties by using schools, hospitals and relief centres for missile storage and launching sites is a matter of intense argument. There’s evidence on both sides, but it is certainly true that Hamas, as befits a terrorist organization, does nothing to minimize civilian casualties.
Hamas also surprised Israel with the extent and sophistication of its tunnel network. The Israeli’s discovered and destroyed 11 tunnels under the border that were designed to infiltrate terrorist attackers into Israel. More than 20 other tunnels criss-crossed Gaza and appear to have been constructed so that Hamas leaders could move around without fear of being spotted and targeted by Israeli drone aircraft and bombs.
Netanyahu, sensibly, limited the objective of the Israeli military incursion into Gaza to destruction of the tunnels. Once that was achieved the Israelis went home, despite strong objections from Netanyahu’s coalition partners and the Israeli public, 80 per cent of whom wanted the army to carry on until Hamas was eradicated.
Looking at pictures of these tunnels, with their skilled concrete construction, electric power and air conditioning systems, and the volume of missiles, all manufactured from parts smuggled in via Egypt, one has to wonder at the stupid waste of resources. If Hamas were truly interested in the fate and wellbeing of the 1.8 million people in Gaza, which it controls, surely there was better use for these scarce resources than squandering them on a futile effort to kill Israelis.
It is because of Hamas’ preference for guns over butter that Israel and Egypt have blockaded the borders of Gaza since the terrorist group came to power. Hamas had a brief respite while the Muslim Brotherhood was in power in Egypt, and doubtless this is when the 3,356 missiles fired in the last month, and the other 3,000 or so still stockpiled, were smuggled into Gaza. But since the return of the military to power in Egypt, in the shape of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who hates Hamas because of its links to the brotherhood, hundreds of smuggling tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border have been destroyed.
Despite all the gloss put on Hamas’ performance in the last month, unless it can get Israel and Egypt to agree to its core demand of lifting the blockade, this whole bloody episode will have been a failure in Palestinian eyes. Some brave Palestinians – Hamas is not a tolerant master – are already scanning the devastation in Gaza and wondering out loud whether the anguish has been worth it. Those sentiments are likely to gather momentum, though it is far too soon to hope Palestinians might do the sensible thing and overthrow the destructive Hamas regime.
Neither Netanyahu nor the Egyptian government has any interest in lifting the Gaza blockade because they know Hamas will only use that as an opportunity to rearm. This is likely to be the key immediate issue if the current 72-hour cease-fire survives and morphs into some kind of peace dialogue.
Netanyahu’s bottom line is well known. Israel has an interest in economic development in Gaza, thus making the cost of launching terrorist attacks on Israel even greater. But Netanyahu will only agree to a lifting of the blockade, and then only the Rafah crossing into Egypt, so long as Hamas is not in control and so long as it does not lead to a remilitarization of Gaza.
Netanyahu and Egypt might agree to the opening of the Rafah crossing if it is controlled by the Palestinian Authority of President Mahmud Abbas, and not Hamas.
But even this is problematic for Netanyahu. Mutual suspicion between Netanyahu and Abbas is high. Abbas believes Netanyahu is trying to change the demographics of the West Bank by encouraging Israeli settlers. Netanyahu refuses to deal with Abbas since the Palestinian Authority signed a unity government agreement with Hamas in April.
In recent years Netanyahu’s policy towards the Palestinians, especially in Gaza, has been based on the notion of disengagement with military deterrence and the threat of massive retaliation in the background.
If nothing else, the events of the last month have shown that this is not a sustainable long-term policy. Netanyahu or any Israeli government needs to get re-engaged. Netanyahu’s problem is that he has no standing with any of the essential partners except Egypt, and that’s not enough.
Copyright © Jonathan Manthorpe 2014
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