Friday, February 20, 2009

Gaza Campaign and Israel’s Security//The Seoul Times South Korea by AMER RIZWAN

Monday, February 23, 2009


February 23 2008.

Gaza Campaign and Israel’s Security

Amer Rizwan[*]

Testaments are violated and solemn promises broken by the custodians of the Promised Land on the pretext of securing the state of Israel from the rockets and mortars and to restore Israel’s deterrent credibility which was seriously discredited by the Lebanon fiasco. However, it has been aptly argued by many analysts that the real intent and purpose of Israel’s unleashing this reign of terror is the creation of ‘Greater Israel’. It is hell bent upon controlling all of what was used to be known as the Mandate Palestine, which includes Gaza and the West Bank. As per the pernicious scheme, the Palestinians would have limited autonomy in a handful of ‘disconnected and economically rippled enclaves’, one of which is Gaza. Israel would control the ‘borders around them, the air above and the water below them’ (John Meirsheimer, “Another War, Another Defeat”, The American Conservative, 2009.) One of the corollaries of the scheme is to instill in the minds of the Palestinians that they are the defeated people thereby having no choice but to surrender their future to the Israelis.

The primary aim of Israel’s military campaign was to neutralize Hamas’s ability to carry out rocket attacks against Israel, but it also led to the death of more than 1300 Palestinians, wounding even a greater number of them and destroying at least 41 Mosques besides wiping out the already antiquated and overloaded infrastructure in Gaza. Damage to vital infrastructure, including many roads, bridges, hospitals and power stations, has severely limited local capacity to care for the injured and displaced. UNDP has already warned that Gaza campaign and the collateral damage will have long term impact on Palestinians. Security Council Resolution 1860(2009) called on the international community to alleviate the humanitarian and economic situation in Gaza. The United Nations is about to unveil a US $ 613 million aid appeal for war-torn Gaza. The funding will be used to provide food, shelter, healthcare and other assistance to victims of Israel's 22-day attack on the Palestinian territory, said John Holmes, chief of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. According to the agency, an assessment on the long-term needs in the conflict-hit territory is already underway. The Resolution called for an immediate, durable and fully respected cease-fire, leading to the full withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza. As per the document released by the Department of Public Information, News & Media Division of the UNSC on 08 January 2009,

“Gravely concerned by the deepening humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip and the resulting heavy civilian casualties “since the refusal to extend the period of calm” between Israel and Hamas, the Security Council this evening stressed the urgency of and called for an “immediate, durable and fully respected ceasefire, leading to the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza”.

Adopting resolution 1860 (2009) by a vote of 14 in favour with the United States abstaining, the Council also expressed its grave concern at the escalation of violence and emphasized that Palestinian and Israeli civilian populations must be protected in the densely packed territory that has been the theatre of a deadly 13-day conflict between Israel Defence Forces and armed Hamas militants”.

Israeli claims have been that Hamas consistently violated the ceasefire that it so ‘diligently’ observed, therefore leaving it with no other choice but to destroy Hamas’s capacity to launch missiles into southern Israel. The claim does not hold water in the face of record. Israel, not Hamas, violated the truce. As per the understanding, Hamas was to stop missile attacks on Israel, and in return the latter was bound to ease its iron grip on Gaza. Ironically Israel tightened it further. (Henry Siegman, “Israel’s Lies”, London Review of Books, 29 January, 2009). This was confirmed by many neutral observers and NGOs operating there. Even Brigadier General (Res.) Shamuel Zakai, a former Commander of IDF’s Gaza Division, accused the Israeli government of making a ‘central error’ during the six months period of truce i.e. ‘failing to take advantage of the calm to improve, rather than markedly worsen, the economic plight of the Palestinians of the Strip……….you cannot just land blows, leave the Palestinians in Gaza in the economic distress, they are in, and expect that Hamas will just sit around and do nothing’ (Interview in Ha’artz on 22 December, 2008).

Israel would have tactically won the war against the defenceless Palestinians, but its strategy of making Israel securer is nowhere in sight. The timing of the war was in narrow terms well calculated by its architects. Many observers are of the opinion that even if Israel is successful in uprooting or expelling Hamas from Gaza, which is a remote possibility in the face of the ‘we are all Hamas’ phenomenon, it will be replaced by a more radical and ferocious organization taking up the flag of resistance. Such a group may establish its links with Al Qa’ida as well. Ironically some Israeli newspapers have absurdly attempted to create a kinship between Hamas and the latter. This is a mistake, says Ephraim Halevy, the former head of Mossad and Sharon’s national security adviser, because {The Hamas Political Bureau Chief, Khalid} Mashal’s declaration diametrically contradicts Al Qa’ida’s approach, and provides Israel with an opportunity, perhaps a historic one, to leverage it for the better. Most of the observers are of the opinion that the results of the campaign have been inconclusive for Israel – even in terms of its immediate aim of preventing Hamas or any other group to fire rockets into it. Its wider strategic implications, moreover, are far from comforting. ( Paul Rogers, “After Gaza: Israel’s Last Chance)

Israel has to understand that it can continue flouting international understandings and conventions in total disregard to the international public opinion yet it would do so only at the expense of its security both in the longer and shorter run, further vitiating the prospects of its viability and both external and internal security in the hostile environment. Gaza offensive meted out a serious setback to the euphoria in the Arab world in general, and Saudi Arab in particular about the success of the peace process spearheaded by Saudi Arabia. The latter urged its ally the United States to intervene in order to end Israel's attack on Gaza. "Superpowers should take responsibility to stop these attacks," the official Saudi Press Agency reported, citing a telephone conversation between Saudi King Abdullah and U.S. President George W. Bush.

Israel is also fast losing its erstwhile friends and strategic allies. Its attempts to barter peace deals with the surrounding states may also flounder on this very count. Syrian sponsorship of Hamas has had an enormous impact on the group's operational capacities. Since the mid-1990s, Damascus has been the operational headquarters of the Hamas military wing and a nexus for the transfer of external funds to Hamas operatives in the territories. Syria and Syrian-occupied Lebanon have become major conduits for funneling weapons and explosives to Hamas and safe havens for training hundreds of its operatives. (Middle East Intelligence Unit. Israel has the bargaining chip of Golan Heights which it had wrested and occupied from Syria in the 1967 War. In fact Turkey had been mediating the process between the two bitter enemies for a year. The idea was to create a more peaceful or at least predictable neighbourhood for Israel before tackling the increasingly complex Palestinian problem. Now in the wake of the Gaza offensive, the talks have been stalled and Syria has bitterly condemned the Israeli attacks.

Yet another fallout of the same had been a spectacular public criticism of Israel by the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Turkey is one of the regional countries that have the closest ties with Israel besides Egypt. It has struck arms procurement deals with Israel as well. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan went to the extent of demanding American President to declare Israel as a terrorist state for its unleashing a reign of terror on the innocent civilian Palestinians. As a mark of protest against the partisan treatment/behaviour of the moderator of the programme at the World Economic Forum, the Prime Minister walked out of the debate. Later in an interview to the Newsweek, Tayyip Erdogan termed Gaza as an ‘open air prison’. In response to a query, he said, ‘Hamas is a political party and not an “arm of Iran” or for that matter of Syria. As a matter of fact, the international community has not respected the Palestinians’ verdict. On the one side, it wishes to flourish democracy in the Middle East, and on the other it doesn’t respect the ballot box results.
"If the whole world had given [Hamas] the chance of becoming a political player maybe they would not be in a situation like this after the elections that they won."
Hamas won the Palestinian Authority legislative elections against the rival Fatah faction in a landslide victory in January 2006
Earlier, Shimon Peres, the Israeli President speaking in the forum held Hamas responsible for the mess in and around Gaza.” The USIP Special Report ‘The Future of Israeli-Palestinian Conflict’ by Yossi Alpher had predicted a downward spiral in Arab support for Hamas only if Israel could reach peace agreements with Beirut and Damascus. Gaza attacks have already blurred these prospects.

The widespread anger, agitation and resentment in the Muslim World is a natural consequence of this act of indiscriminate shelling on the innocent Palestinians yet the initial adverse reaction came from South America. Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia were the first countries to condemn Israel's massacres in Gaza. Venezuela declared the Israeli ambassador as a persona non grata ordering to him to leave the country as a mark of protest over this savagery. “Israel is creating a holocaust in Palestine; it has become a genocide country’, said furious Chavez. Soon Bolivia followed the suit. Bolivian President Evo Morales demanded that Israeli Government should be brought to justice in the International Court of Justice.

Israeli used its full military might which backfired almost in the same fashion as it did in its attack on Lebanon. Its international standing is at stake; UN resolution 1860(2009) must be an eye-opener for the Israelis. Israel has created new enemies and has lost many old guards. Although Hamas is perceived a common threat by Egypt and Israel yet the latter is also cognizant of the fact that the smuggling route for the provision of ammunition and arms to Hamas had been from the Egyptian Senia Peninsula. The rulers in Cairo have a core strategic interest in ensuring that Hamas remains boxed in. The Muslim Brotherhood, from which Hamas emerged, is bound to exploit the ongoing transition in the Egytian polity. The sights of Muslim Brotherhood’s leading protests in the name of Hamas are quite common there. Similarly the ruling junta of Jordon has much to lose with the growth of Hamas, not because its progenitor Muslim Brotherhood has a stronger base there in Jordon, but also because it believes that on account of its sympathy-base, the Group can pose a threat to the security and stability of the country. However, if we are to believe the Americans on their promises of democratizing the Middle East, then there is no reason that in one form or the other, groups like Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood would make their presence feel in their respective governments’ apparatuses. The eventual result would be, as many western analysts apprehends, a more insecure Israel. One of the unfortunate corollaries of the development may well be the US reneging on its promises.

However, Israel is between the devil and the deep sea. It has to make difficult comprises on traditional security fronts with Egypt, Jordon and a hawkish Syria. The recent developments related to, and leading up to, Gaza offensive have convinced Israel to change its approach at least to Sinai to start with. That is why it has shown its readiness to discuss the remilitarization (two Egyptian military battalions) of an area of Senai adjacent to the 12 Kilometer Gaza border, and on a slightly larger scale (3000 Egyptian soldiers, with the armored vehicles), of the 250 kilometer long Israel-Egypt border. Israel now relatively unconcerned with the Egyptian military threat, is also considering from the Philadelphi road and allowing Egypt both to police the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Senai. Israel is also considering to examine a proposal whereby Palestinian demographic pressures in Gaza would be alleviated, by Egypt ceding to Palestine the adjacent northeast corner of Senai. Egypt would be compensated by Israel with a portion of southern Negev and land access across the Negev to Jordon. Similar options are weighed vis-à-vis Syria as well i.e. bartering away peace deals by making territorial compensations. (The USIP Special Report ‘The Future of Israeli-Palestinian Conflict’ by Yossi Alpher). The crux of the argument is that unless Israel is ready to give its due to Palestine, it would continue being entangled in the vicious mechanisms with the neighboring countries yet peace and security would remain elusive.

Gaza campaign has enthused new vigour in the Palestinian intifada. In the longer run, it will lead to cracks in the body politic of Israel with a divide between the Israeli citizens who would perceive security in ‘lebensraum’ and the ones who would prefer living in relatively securer and racially ‘pure’ enclaves. This syndrome is called by many as ‘Territory versus Demography Divide’.

And last but not the least, Gaza offensive and the power vacuum has already provided historic opportunity to extra-regional powers such as Iran to increase its influence and stature in the region. Ahmadinejad, the President of Iran has already stated that his county will support Hamas until the collapse of Israel. Regarding conflict in the Gaza Strip, Iran has been sharply vocal in its criticism of Israel and has offered support to Hamas. Many Western analysts agree there are links between Iran and Hamas, but they differ about the nature and depth of those ties.

The future scenario can be grimmer for Israel, in case democracy was not given a fair chance to take its natural course in the due time. Any broad-based setups in the neighbourhood of Israel would have the likes of Hamas as their essential components. Again such dispensations would not be able to ignore popular aspirations on many Arab-Israeli issues. So initially the kicking off democracy in the region would be a painful choice for Israel and the West. But by and by when the Arabs would start reaping the fruits of liberty, equality, development and prosperity, the transformation would pay its dividends in terms of greater understanding, tolerance and peaceful coexistence. However, Israel, the US and the West have to live to learn with these groups because, after all, the rightist and the Zionist elements have the lion’s share in Israel’s governmental apparatus as well. With successive elections, more dynamic and enlightened leaders could emerge thorough continuous democratic processes who would be more responsive to the genuine social needs and issues rather than to the extraneous factors. In addition, if the Israelis chose to send leaders that are not Palestinians-bashing demagogues and the ones who extend an olive branch to the Palestinians in particular and the Arabs in general, then the latter may also gradually change their outlook and send moderate leadership to the corridors of power.

[*] The author is the Ph-D Scholar in the Department of International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad. Pakistan. He can be contacted on

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