Israel’s Aim: To Make the Gazan Prison Even More Secure

Nazareth — There are two persistent myths about the aim of Israel’s onslaught on Gaza: the first that it is an entirely defensive move, a way to end the rocket fire of Hamas; and the second that it is designed to restore the army’s credibility after its failure to cow Hizbollah in 2006.

No doubt the Israeli army has been itching to repair its battered image, and for sure the rocket attacks from Gaza create domestic pressures that are only too clear to an Israeli government about to face an election.

But it is a gross misunderstanding of what is unfolding in Gaza to believe Israel’s motives are capricious. The politicians and generals have been preparing for this attack for many months, possibly years — a fact alone that suggests they have bigger objectives than commonly assumed.

Israel seized this particular moment — with western politicians dozing through the holidays and a changeover of administrations in Washington — because it ensured the longest period to implement its plan without diplomatic interference.

The pressure on Israel to reach a political settlement will grow, however, as the inauguration of Barack Obama on Jan 20 approaches. That explains why, as the army brings ever greater force to bear on Hamas’s urban heartlands, the outlines of an Israeli plan are starting to become visible.

Despite talk in Israel that a chance to topple Hamas is within reach, that option does not have to be pursued. Israel’s aims can be achieved whether Hamas stays or falls — as long as it is crushed politically.

Certainly, a permanent re-occupation of the enclave with its 1.5 million inhabitants is not desired by Israel, which withdrew its settlers and soldiers in 2005 precisely because the demographic, economic and military costs of directly policing Gaza’s refugee camps were considered too high.

It therefore needs another ceasefire similar to the one that expired on Dec 19. The questions are: who will “sign” it and what will be its terms?

Writing in The Jerusalem Post newspaper this week, Martin Kramer, a leading Washington neoconservative, suggested that Israel’s goal was to forge an agreement with Mahmoud Abbas and restore his rule in Gaza. “Hamas would swallow the pill in the name of ‘national unity’,” he argued.

The idea that Mr. Abbas and his Fatah party can ride into the Gaza Strip on the back of Israeli tanks may be a fantasy that makes sense to the neocons who brought us “regime change” in Iraq, but few in the Israeli government or army seem to believe it is feasible.

In any case, the distinction between Fatah’s “rule” over the West Bank ghettoes Israel has created and Hamas’s oversight of the prison that Gaza has become is one Israel appears keen to maintain. The Israeli vision for the West Bank, in which significant parts are annexed, depends on its political severance from Gaza.

Instead, Israel is again pursuing its favorite mode of diplomacy: unilateralism. According to officials quoted in the local media, it wants a deal that is approved by the United States and western governments but passes over the heads of Hamas and the Palestinians.

At a recent cabinet meeting, Tzipi Livni, the foreign minister, put it this way: “There is no intention here of creating a diplomatic agreement with Hamas. We need diplomatic agreements against Hamas.”

According to the latest reports, the ceasefire would require, as before, that Hamas prevent all rocket fire out of the Strip, but it would also introduce what officials are vaguely terming a “mechanism” on the only border with Gaza not under Israel’s control.

During its lengthy blockade, Israel has been able to prevent goods, including food, medicines and fuel, from entering the Gaza Strip through crossing points on its two land borders while its navy patrols the sea coast. But Gaza also shares a short southern land border, next to the town of Rafah, with Egypt.

Before the 2005 disengagement, Israel sought to control this fourth border too by bulldozing swathes of Palestinian homes to create a no-man’s land between Rafah and Egypt. This area, overlooked by military watchtowers, was referred to as the Philadelphi corridor.

After the withdrawal, Israel hoped the steel wall along the Rafah border and its oversight of the crossing point into Egypt would ensure that nothing went in or out without its approval.

However, a small private industry of tunneling under the wall quickly burgeoned, becoming a lifeline for ordinary Gazans and a route for smuggling in weapons for Hamas.

Egypt had little choice but to turn a blind eye, despite being profoundly uncomfortable with an Islamic party ruling next door. It faces its own domestic pressures over the humanitarian catastrophe that has been visibly created in Gaza.

Israel believes the current invasion will have achieved nothing unless this time it regains absolute control of the Rafah border, undercutting Hamas’s claims to be running the Strip. The “mechanism” therefore requires that technical responsibility is lifted from Egyptian shoulders.

According to the Israeli plan, it will pass to the Americans, whose expertise will be called on to stop the tunneling and prevent Hamas from rebuilding its arsenal after the invasion comes to an end.

Israel may additionally seek the involvement of international forces to diffuse the censure the Arab publics are likely to direct at Egypt as a result.

Once Hamas has no hope of rearming and cannot take any credit for the Gazans’ welfare, Israel will presumably allow in sufficient supplies of humanitarian aid to pacify western governments concerned about the images of Gaza’s cold and hungry children.

Ghassan Khatib, a Palestinian analyst, believes that in this scenario Israel would probably insist that such supplies come only through the Egyptian crossing, thereby “fulfilling another strategic aim: that of making Gaza Egypt’s responsibility”.

And once the Gazan albatross is lifted from Israel’s neck, Mr. Abbas and his West Bank regime will be more isolated than ever. Undoubtedly, the hope in Israel is that, with Gaza disposed of, the pressure will grow on the Palestinian Authority to concede in a “peace” deal yet more Palestinian land in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Jonathan Cook, based in Nazareth, Israel is a winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (Pluto Press) and Disappearing Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human Despair (Zed Books). Read other articles by Jonathan, or visit Jonathan's website.

9 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozh said on January 7th, 2009 at 11:36am #

    tactics are connected to strategy; ie, final goal. it is interesting that we do not know what the fianl goal is for EU,UK,US, and israel.
    we know what these players are against, but we don’t know what each of these criminals nations is for.
    what are they against? it seems they are against palestinian right and duty to resist occupation violently in any degree.

    we are therefore forced to guess about the aims of each of these participants in crimes against yet another indigenous folk whose only ‘crime’ is that they are in the wrong place in the eyes of perps of these crimes.

    the fact that, after 60 years of warfare/expulsion/destruction of orchards/homes, etc., we still don’t have an agreement, strongly suggests that israel wants at least all of the palestine and parts of lebanon and syria.

    gaza massacre is a tactical success but does it gain anything strategically? looks to me it gains very little or nothing. the problem for ‘jews’, as always, is palestinians.
    they can’t be ousted! israel would expel them if they could!
    let’s recall that they expelled 7-800 td palestinians in ’48 when all christian lands were against them.

    but the UN of today is not UN of ’48. and now people are much better informed. and then there is that darn oil. thnx

  2. Thomas said on January 7th, 2009 at 11:54am #

    Jonathon, I fear for Israel’s security. Will they rely on international forces to prevent Hamas from rearming – the same goons who were supposed to prevent Hezbollah from rearming? The residents of sedorot – men, women and children – have been psychologically damaged from all the rockets that have been aimed at them. These ceasfires agreements are mere farces. Jonathon, let us pray that Israel overcomes the threats posed to them by the terrorist brutes. Please join me in prayer for the people of Israel and the doomed sedorot residents. It’s the least we can do to assist them in their dire circumstance. Keep up the good work, and your impartial and heartfelt reporting.

  3. herb glatter said on January 7th, 2009 at 12:31pm #

    since the reestablishment of the State of Israel in 1948: Egypt waged war against Yemen, Algerian Islamists slaughtered 150,000 Algerians, Syria slaughtered 20,000 Syrians in Hama 1982, Lebanon 150,000 dead in “civil” war,King Hussein of Jordan slaughters 10,000 palestinians September 1970, Iran/Iraq war 1 MILLION MUSLIMS dead, Kuwait ethicnally cleansed 400,000 palestinians after Gulf War – NOTICE WHAT IS MISSING HERE? NOT ONE JEW WAS INVOLVED

  4. bozh said on January 7th, 2009 at 2:52pm #

    herb glatter,
    as far as i know, there is no evidence, that israelites are still with us. even the priests speak of israelis as ten lost tribes.
    regarding judeans, they too were either slaughtered/expelled or fled to arab lands.
    thus, ashkenazic voelken cannot be descendants of the judeans because there was few or no jews in europe or roman empire.
    historians tell us that european ‘jews’ did not speak hebraic. and we know that they even today have european last and first names.
    does one think that such fierce cultists would ever give up their language or names if they were jewish? thnx

  5. Paul Meyer said on January 7th, 2009 at 4:22pm #

    Jonathan makes excellent points, and lived in a context lending weight to his analysis. However, I know for a fact that gates are being erected, as we watch, before all the major cities of the West Bank–preparing for a dozen “minor prisons”, leaving virtually all of the remainder of the West Bank for colonization. As Sara Roy has said, what is happening to Gaza today will imposed on the West Bank tomorrow–even if Abu Quisling is “in charge”.

  6. giorgio said on January 7th, 2009 at 7:04pm #

    mebosa ritchie,
    I have read and commented on some of your posts. You say,
    “all the articles about gaza are anti-israel and any pro-israel postings are removed and the poster gets blocked…” Seriously?
    So let’s read your pro-israel postings and have an open minded debate. OK? Let’s hear what you have in defence of the present Gaza slaughter…

  7. Suthiano said on January 7th, 2009 at 7:21pm #

  8. bozh said on January 8th, 2009 at 4:26am #

    what fatah, headed by abbas, is doing appears puzling to me. still, lotsof people have not discerned that if fatah is willing to accept status quo or less than what palestinians have now, why isn’t US/EU/Israel offering them a proposal or even a diktat?
    or have they and the offer was rejected? in other words, fatah also wants the 22% of palestine.
    and US may be offfering them 10% which is less than clinton’s 14%.

    palestinians may realize or KNOW that whatever they do or don’t do, situation wld remain the same or worsen anyway. but they have bodies. that’s the only asset fatah and hamas have. thnx

  9. Phil said on January 8th, 2009 at 11:45am #

    It therefore needs another ceasefire similar to the one that expired on Dec 19. The questions are: who will “sign” it and what will be its terms?

    None of that matters. Everyone knows perfectly well Israel will never abide by any cease-fire, so it’s only a matter of time before the Gazans fight back again. It’s just one more trip around the same circle.