Monday, June 18, 2007

Israeli options

In the current new situation, Israel has several possible options, and anything can happen.
Israel could isolate the Gaza Strip completely, since it supplies 40% of its water and 70% of its gasoline, as well as food and aid. But, although Israel has declared the Gaza Strip a "terrorist entity," and could "starve them out," Israel does not want to be responsible for a humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza. At present the border posts are closed and the supply of gasoline has been cut off to gas stations, but not to the electricity generating station in Gaza. According to UNWRA they have only 10 days of food supplies left. Of the 1.5 million people in Gaza, ca. half of them are totally dependent on charity (UNWRA, EU, etc.). Carefully calibrated supplies are probably the best Israeli option.
Israel does not want to reoccupy Gaza, but it may be necessary for the IDF to enter in force to make sure that the Hamas "army" that has been built up there, and that now has all the Fatah/PA weapons, is not able to mount a strong surprise attack on Israel. Also, if terrorist incidents and rocket firing from Gaza increase as expected then the IDF needs to be able to respond. Ehud Barak became Defense Minister on Sunday and it was reported that he is going to establish a task force of 20,000 men to be prepared to attack Gaza at any time.
There are now mutually hostile governments in Gaza and the West Bank, each declaring the other illegal. What happened in Gaza was definitely a military coup, even though Hamas declare that Haniyeh was the democratically elected PM. The new Govt. appointed by Abbas in Ramallah is also in some way not quite legitimate, but at least in response to the Hamas action it is acceptable. The new PM Salem Fayyad is a US-educated independent and is definitely someone the West can deal with. So the Palestinians have split along political lines, the extremists in Hamas aligned with Iran and the moderates aligned with the West. Now that Hamas is no longer in the PA Govt. the US, EU and Israel can transfer funds to the Abbas/Fayyad Govt. in Ramallah, as long as Fatah does not use the aid to attack Israel. But, as Olmert says, Israel now has a Palestinian partner to deal with, and maybe a peace deal can eventually come out of this situation. Alternatively, the Fatah Govt. could be undermined by Hamas and others in the West Bank, leading to further fighting there and another Hamas takeover. I doubt that Israel would stand by and allow that to happen.
Note that Israel arrested many Hamas legislators in the West Bank and this probably saved their lives. Israel does not carry out peremptory killings of enemies unless they are terrorists engaged in direct terrorist activity. They try to arrest them and put them on trial. So when the Fatah gunmen went looking for the Hamas lawmakers, they were safely ensconced in Israeli jails, and they probably want to stay there for now. Israel also allowed some Fatah leaders to flee Gaza for the West Bank (some also went by boat to Egypt, since Egypt closed the Gaza border). The irony is that at present Fatah and Israel have parallel goals, to quash Hamas and to stop terrorist activity so that the new emergency Govt. can be recognized and can receive aid and international funding.
Saed Erakat, the spokesman of the new Govt. on the West Bank made clear that they consider the Govt. to be also the Govt. of Gaza. So there are competing claims, and this might lead to a continuation of war between the two factions. The only way that Fatah can extend its claim to Gaza is if the IDF first defeats Hamas in Gaza. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that the IDF would first attack and destroy the Hamas forces in Gaza, and then the Fatah militias would be allowed to enter Gaza from Israel. That would certainly be a turn around and one for the history books, but stranger things have happened (remember that the Christians in Lebanon were the ones who first invited the Syrians to send their army in to protect them from the Muslims!)
As I have often said, history is unpredictable, noone predicted that Pres. Sadat of Egypt would visit Israel and speak from the Knesset and make peace. Our aim must be to remain strong and defend ourselves and wait for the other side to crumble.


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