Thursday, May 17, 2007

Gaza on the brink

The civil war between the Palestine nationalist party Fatah and the Islamist Hamas has brought Gaza to the brink of total chaos. Over the past few days at least 24 were killed and 100 injured in a series of gun battles and ambushes throughout the Gaza Strip. The worst incident was the shooting of eight Fatah security guards who were returning to their barracks without realizing that it had been occupied by Hamas militiamen. Nothing is working in Gaza, schools, banks and Government offices are closed, since most people are afraid to venture out on the streets. An Egyptian envoy who went to assess the current state of fighting was shot in the hand. Several so-called ceasefire agreements have failed and the Unity Government has in reality collapsed.
Hamas chose this moment to escalate its rocket attacks on southern Israel. A volley of 20 rockets hit the southern Israeli town of Sderot on Tues, injuring many and hitting a school that luckily was empty at the time. Now all schools are closed and people have been ordered into shelters, although to date only half the shelters in Sderot have been strengthened. Even the weak and incompetent Olmert-Peretz Government cannot ignore this challenge. On Weds the IAF hit a Hamas hq in Rafah, killing four. Although there will not likely be a major IDF ground offensive, an increase in targeted killings of rocket launchers and terrorists is expected. No doubt Hamas wants to intimidate Israel and stimulate a response as a means to take attention away from their internal clashes and as a way to unite the factions against Israel. Hopefully the IDF will be able to respond without such consequences. Unfortunately, by being reorganized to fight terror the IDF had neglected its central role as the main defenseive deterrent to Arab armed forces.
Although the chaos in Gaza could have unforeseen consequences, it is basically in Israel's interest if the Palestinian factions fight a civil war. One way of looking at this is that whenever Israel is too difficult for them to attack, because of the anti-terrorist barrier and the improved methods that Israel has developed over the past few years, then the militant factions turn on each other. Yesterday, EU Foreign Commissioner Solana was asked by a PA Minister to pay funds directly to the Hamas-led Unity Government, and even he demurred. He said that while there was fighting going on in Gaza there was no point in paying more money to the PA. Under these circumstances there is no possibility of progress towards a Palestinian State, so all the current talk about the Arab peace initiative and US "benchmarks" are so much irrelevant nonsense.
We often complain about the state of affairs in Israel, with corruption and political incompetence. But, we must keep a sense of proportions. Our problems result largely from the open workings of an active liberal democracy, transparency has its price. But if we compare ourselves to the Palestinians, I have no doubt whose situation we would rather be in. Some leftists blame Israel for the civil war in Gaza, but in reality it is of their own doing, as even the official PA spokesman Saeb Erakat admitted in an unusually candid statement yesterday.


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