Thursday, June 24, 2010

Gaza: Reader Questions

By Barry Rubin

1. What should one say in response to claims that by easing sanctions on the Gaza Strip Israel admits they were never necessary or that sanctions can merely be limited to military equipment?

Answer: The key element is that formerly Israel was trying to bring down the Hamas regime for very good reasons. That was the right thing to do and the world should have supported it. Overthrowing Hamas is a Western interest since Hamas will spread revolution to Egypt and other countries, attack Israel in future, prevent the Palestinian Authority from making peace, and repress the people in the Gaza Strip.

Note how in a similar manner Western states essentially protected (and protect) Hizballah in Lebanon, thus ensuring the spread there of Syrian and Iranian influence and the likelihood of war there as well.

This is not just a humanitarian issue but rather the need to oppose a threat from an antisemitic, genocide-oriented, revolutionary Islamist regime which expels Christians, treats women horribly and is an Iranian client on the Mediterranean.

What Israel was doing before was using economic sanctions to limit Hamas's ability to be popular and reward its supporters (including terrorists). Remember this was completely in tune with the Western policy of helping the Palestinian Authority and punishing Hamas so that Palestinians would conclude that moderation and peacemaking was more in their interest.

2. Would leaving the blockade in place have eventually resulted in the collapse of Hamas control in Gaza?

Answer: It is impossible to say but perhaps Hamas would have been brought down. At least there was a chance for doing so. Remember that in this as in other cases sanctions had three purposes other than "persuading" the other side to change its policy:

A. Minimize the resources they have for waging war and maintaining political control;

B. Signal to factions to become more moderate or to quarrel among themselves while giving the masses an incentive to overthrow the regime (both because it wasn't delivering the goods, because it was weaker, and because they felt that they had international support for a revolt.

C. Signal to others that this is a losing side and they should not support it also lest they, too suffer from sanctions.

On the other hand, other critical elements for bringing down Hamas were missing:

A. Israel was not allowed to achieve victory.

B. International support for a "rollback" policy was lacking.

C. There was not a strong and determined opposition effort by Fatah to help bring down Hamas.

3. Wasn't the embargo actually strengthening Hamas since it controls imports via tunnels?

Answer: But Hamas will still have control of tunnels and now will seize control of most of the aid, too. The exception might be to limited amounts of construction materials for specific, mainly UN projects. Apartments being built will be used by Hamas as rewards for its supporters and martyrs. Medical supplies will go to Hamas fighters as a top priority. Educational supplies will be used to indoctrinate students, and so on.

4. What is Israeli policy now?

Answer: Containment. Israel will defend itself from Hamas, minimalize the arms and dual use equipment Hamas can receive. Fight Hamas as is needed. Prevent the spread of Hamas power and weaponry to the West Bank. But Israel recogizes that there's no solution.

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