Monday, January 12, 2009

The Hidden Story On Gaza

For the past two weeks, I've trying to put together the answers to a couple of questions on the Gaza War,knowing that in the Middle East, things are never as simple as they seem. Why, after all this time did the troika of Olmert, Livni and Barak choose now to go after Hamas? Why did Hamas deliberately provoke Israel? Having watched Israel decimate its fighters and put Gaza City under siege,why has Hamas refused a ceasefire? And what is the end game likely to look like?

Now that a few more pieces of the puzzle have revealed themselves, here's how things fit together.

The Israeli public has a deep contempt for Ehud Olmert and the rest of the government he put together, and rightfully so. Having been lied to first about how the Gaza retreat was going to bring peace to Israel by getting rid of those nasty 'settlers' and then seeing the criminally mismanaged Lebanon War fought for no appreciable result under his watch, Olmert reputation as Israel's weakest and most ineffectual prime minister was assured even without his appetite for bribery and corruption. Add that to the mix,and Olmert's popularity probably doesn't extend much past his own immediate family.

While foreign minister and Kadima Party leader Tzipi Livni and defense minister and Labor Party leader Ehud Barak are not as unpopular as Olmert,both of them are tarred by the failure of Israeli government to defend its citizens living in the south of the country from Hamas.Both are running behind in the polls in the upcoming elections and neither can afford to be thought of as soft on defense.

Olmert,of course isn't running for anything except maybe for an acquittal if he can manage one (Note to Israel: this is what happens when you let a shifty, dishonest lawyer run the country). However,he has something to gain here as well. Israel, like most democracies isn't going to put an ex-leader in jail for anything less than premeditated murder, for obvious reasons. Olmert will likely be convicted,but the conditions under which he leaves office next month could have a great deal to do with the price he ends up paying for it.

In other words, all of these three stand to benefit from a successful war in the south that eliminates the Hamas threat they were responsible for creating and abetting in the first place, although it's important to remember that the Gaza campaign would not have happened if Hamas had not made the decision to accelerate the frequency, power and range of the rocket attacks on Israel as a causus belli, a deliberate act of war.

Why exactly did Hamas choose to initiate hostilities ? Thanks to the Olmert government, there was a ceasefire in name only for the last six months that still allowed Hamas to fire rockets and mortars into Israel while building up their armaments. It could well have continued in just that why did Hamas suddenly decide to quash the ceasefire and ramp up their attacks?

Having ousted Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah from Gaza, Hamas assumed total control of the area,but they failed in one key area - gaining legitimacy as a 'state' along the lines of Abbas and Fatah even after winning an election among the Palestinians by a 70% majority. Instead of acceptance and legitimacy, they were blockaded by Israel and Egypt and the west threw its vote for Preferred Palestinian Terrorist to Abbas and Fatah.

Hamas was left with Gaza to govern,which they proved spectacularly bad at, even with major aid from the west via UNRWA and the Fatah government,which dutifully sent a portion of its jirzyah from the infidels to the Strip.

With Abbas' presidential term coming to an end and elections looming, the Hamas leadership also had a vested interest in hostilities with Israel. Contrary to the nonsense you'll hear peddled elsewhere, Hamas won the huge majority they did precisely because Fatah had been miserably defeated in its war with the hated Jews in the intifada, and Hamas promised both a hardline stance and victory. With new elections coming up, Hamas saw an opportunity to gain relevance for itself and oust Fatah if there was even a semblance of a fair election by once again being identified in the Palestinian street as the leader in the jihad against Israel.

And of course, the idea of ramped up hostilities against Israel worked well with the goals of the third party in this conflict- Iran.

While Hamas controls the Gaza Strip, its real leadership resides in Syria, and Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the dominant factions in the Strip, are both wholly owned subsidiaries of Iran, their main source of financial and military aid.

Iran also saw the political advantage to Hamas increasing the missile attacks on Israel and ousting Fatah, and after Israel's debacle in Lebanon, neither Iran or Hamas dreamed that the response to Hamas' aggression would be as forceful as it was. They miscalculated badly to say the least.

However, Iran had another goal in mind as well..taking the spotlight off its nuclear weapons program. That's one reason why Iran ordered Hamas not to accept a ceasefire even after the decisive nature of the Israeli response became clear.

Even though I'm relatively certain Iran and the Bush Administration have had an understanding that the US would not attack Iran's nuclear facilities or enable Israel to do so in exchange for relative quiet in Iraq and a free hand for Hezbollah in Lebanon, in the end the Mullahs were not certain President Bush was not as duplicitous as they are and wasn't going to renege on the deal in the waning days of his presidency.

Of course, as we now know, President Bush plans to keep his side of the deal, but it still serves the Mullahs in Iran to have Palestinian 'victims' to take the spotlight off of their quest for nuclear weapons, to stoke anti-American and anti-Israel hatred in the Arab world and to give Hamas a political boost among Palestinians in the areas Fatah occupies on the West Bank.

The main losers in all this of course are the Palestinians, who are being used by their leaders and 'allies' for dupes....but they were hardly unwilling to participate in killing Jews until the Israelis started firing back, and in any case the Palestinians have been dupes for years and they ought to have gotten used to it by now.

Where this could all end up depends on several factors.

Hamas is losing badly. Sixty to Seventy percent of their weapons stock has either been destroyed of confiscated, their fighters have been decimated and their forces are experiencing widespread desertions. That's how Amir Mansi, the senior Hamas commandant of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades in the Gaza Strip was killed after his men refused to obey his orders and risk the Israeli onslaught to fire off rockets. Mansi broke cover to do it himself and received a one way ticket to hell courtesy of the IDF for his trouble.

Even worse, Hamas has lost a certain amount of their civilian support in Gaza. The locals have seen their brave Hamas warriors hiding in hospitals, schools and mosques, using the population for human shields and raiding humanitarian aid trucks and selling the supplies to the highest bidder. All this has not endeared them to the locals.

The IDF's plan is to take over the Philadelphi Corridor and the Rafah crossing to make any further heavy weapons smuggling from Iran to Hamas a dead issue. Further, they also plan to set up what MK General Effie Eitam, a member of the Knesset's Security committee termed 'a humanitarian area' south of Gaza City in what used to be Gush Katif where they will provide doctors, food and shelter and encourage the civilian population of Gaza City to concentrate, while at the same time destroying what's left of Hamas in Gaza City.

General Eitam paints a picture of a demoralized population who remember the peace and security they enjoyed under Israeli rule and would be willing to return to it.

With all respect to General Eitam (and he deserves a considerable amount of respect) there are problems with the part of this scenario that envisions a humanitarian area to care for Gaza's civilians. If nothing else, the IDF can expect homicide bombers and Hamas provocateurs among the 'civilians' looking to set off an incident where the media can paint Israeli troops as firing on 'civilians' in a 'concentration camp.'

The IDF might be ill-advised to tie up manpower and resources in something like this, and would likely be much better off repatriating most of these people to the Palestinian occupied areas of Judea and Samaria (AKA the West Bank)and the rule of their elected president, Mahmoud Abbas.

The Israelis could then annex the Gaza Strip as part of Israel proper, and the world would watch as the Jews repopulate it and turn it into a garden.

This is the most realistic scenario. After all, if 'Palestine' is a country, shouldn't they be caring for their own citizens? Especially given the obscene amount of aid the UN and the West is giving Abbas and Fatah?

Another possible scenario depends on the results Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak gets in Kuwait when he meets in a summit with the other Arab leaders on January 16th with a plan for an inter-Arab force or a reliable international body to monitor to monitor the Philadelphi Corridor.

If the Arabs are able to come up with a plan acceptable to the EU and US, Israel would likely accept it and the IDF would deploy in place until it's implemented. That kind of solution would leave the Hamas Gaza leadership in place, but would also involve Hamas' Gaza leadership defying Iran and Damascus-based Hamas boss Khalid Meshaal.

The Egyptians made it quite clear to Gaza's Hamas functionaries that the only way the Rafah terminal between Egypt and Gaza will open again is if either Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah are in control along with international monitors or if the IDF alters the facts on the ground so that Israel controls the Philadelphi Corridor and the Gaza side of the Rafah crossing, as before.

Which way things end up is going to depend agreat deal on whether the Arabs and the EU come up with a realistic formula or the IDF gets there first andsimply assumes control of the area.

Seeing as the 'international monitors/Fatah' road has been travelled before and proven a dismal failure, there's little doubt of what makes more sense from Israel's standpoint.

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