UPSHOT COLUMN, WED jan 14, 2009
Gaza is a geopolitical threat to Israel for two reasons. First, its proximity to Egypt invites the transport of arms to the Palestinians. Second, its proximity to Israel invites Hamas rockets.
Yet Gaza was a creation of Israel in 1948. That was where they dumped the Palestinians from Ashkelon, now part of Israel. The ghost of its past misdeeds haunts them today. Two years ago, Israel decided to remove its own settlements in Gaza by force under international pressure to return occupied territories. Israel also wanted no part of the Gaza 'cesspool', as journalists labeled this strange land. The Israeli settlers gave strong resistance but lost in the end.
It was, however, a long term peace strategy with short term war consequences. The moment they ceded Gaza, they regretted it and considered it a great geopolitical blunder. First, they laid open Israeli towns to rocket attacks. Second, they virtually gave the Palestinians the highway to Egypt where these rockets were transported through tunnels. These tunnels are now being dismantled by the Israelis. But it is a useless exercise. New ones will be made later for sure, unless they indefinitely reoccupy Gaza, which they will not do, now that there are 1.5 million Palestinians there that they cannot possibly rule or get rid of, only kill.
When Hamas ousted the Palestinian Authority from Gaza, the mistake was further confirmed. Israel resorted to food blockades and containment of the Gaza community loyal to Hamas. The Palestinian Authority sympathizers left in frustration which made Gaza a monolithic bastion of Hamas resolve, virtually an autonomous Hamas sub-nation within the Palestinian nation. Israel is willing to talk to the moderate Authority but not to the radical Hamas.
Israel drew first blood by instituting food blockades, hoping to break the Palestinian spirit. It only became stronger. The food blockades drew the ire of Hamas who retaliated with rocket attacks. Gaza's proximity to Israeli towns and cities offered easy retaliation. This was the start of the new round of hostilities leading to the current Israeli invasion of Gaza. The first attacks of 6,000 rockets killed four Israelis. Israel has a neurotic fear of such rocket attacks, even if they have only very few casualties, leading to extreme measures. Israel's initial retaliatory bombardment of Gaza killed 400 Palestinians, many of them civilians. One hundred eyes for an eye is the Israeli tenet. With casualties reaching 1,000 by Jan. 16, it is now a thousand eyes for an eye.
What is happening right now is a repeat of the latest invasion of Lebanon, wherein the capture of two Israeli soldiers became the pretext for an overkill invasion, hundreds of Lebanese dead, millions of dollars worth of buildings, homes and infrastructure destroyed, entire towns obliterated. The logic of the Israeli in Lebanon then and in Gaza now is the same – to break the will of the Palestinians to stop them from these rocket attacks. Ironically, their extreme moves have resulted in the exact opposite, namely the strengthening of Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon. The death of innocent civilians have augmented the ranks of Hamas. The Israelis, in their neurotic fear, have not learned a lesson. They go on a knee-jerk overkill invasion in blind anger, which would not only strengthen their enemy, but also foment more anger for future retaliations and speed up the cycle of violence. The current invasion of Gaza is a terrible political loss for Israel who is incurring the ire of the world. Turkey, which has good relations with Israel, issued statements of condemnation. Violent protests spread across the world.
Israel knows all their invasions are temporary measures. They are in a hurry because they know the UN will soon stop their blitzkrieg. Also, they do not like protracted occupation. In Tel Aviv, soldier casualties are breeding an anti-war mood. In the first invasion of Lebanon, Israel realized they could not neutralize Arafat's PLO urban guerrillas in one lightning move. That invasion was a total failure, in spite of the attempt of Sharon's forces to commit genocide. They withdrew in utter frustration. In the second invasion of Lebanon, they knew all they could do was make lightning strikes and avoid protracted occupation. But such lightning strikes simply made the enemy stronger, the same situation as the present invasion of Gaza. Middle East observers predict that the current Israeli invasion will reunify the Palestinian Authority with Hamas. Military victory becomes a political defeat.
There are today 1.5 million Hamas-loyal Palestinians in Gaza. The only way Israel can remove them is to commit genocide, but can they do that as the entire world looks on? The Palestinians in Gaza is irreversible, bombs or no bombs. They have nowhere else to go. A Hamas leader killed will be replaced by a dozen more radical ones.
It is important for the anti-war people in Israel civil government and civil society to step in and neutralize the generals, just as much as among the Palestinians. It is the enemy within for both Israelis and Palestinians, hawks versus doves, who will forge the destiny of the Middle East. The peacemakers must overwhelm the warmongers. What is happening in the Middle East is perhaps not an accident but an apocalyptic orchestration of a God of wrath for the blunders of Man.