Gaza and Israel: new disasters but no end in sight

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Today’s destruction of Gaza’s electricity power station raises the specter of a severe humanitarian crisis in Gaza because it will severely curtail supply of safe water for drinking and use in hospitals and make safe disposal of sewage almost impossible. That could lead within weeks to epidemic diseases including cholera and dysentery, which has the worst impacts on children, the infirm, old people and women.

Unrecovered bodies buried in the rubble of destroyed neighborhoods will also become breeding grounds for bacteria, virus, infections and airborne diseases since the Gaza Strip houses 1.82 million people in an area just 25 miles long and 3.5 -7.5 miles wide

These prospects underline the urgency of at least a humanitarian truce but that seems out of reach because the Israeli military has not yet finished its missions and Hamas and its allies are not yet ready to lay down arms.

Secretary of State John Kerry and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon are trying to use Egypt to mediate a truce as in the past but its new President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has lost the trust of Hamas.

Israel’s travails have no end in sight although this time Hamas is isolated as never before. It may not yet have lost the will to fight but Israel is no longer its only adversary. It must also contend with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and Saudi Arabia, which is mostly Salafist Muslim and wants to break the back of Egypt’s less conservative Sunni Muslim Brotherhood that nurtured Hamas.

This time the suffering of Gaza’s civilians will owe as much to Sisi’s loathing for Hamas as the might of Israel’s awesome military. The situation has become so dire for Hamas that it now seems to define victory as simply standing up in resistance to both Israel and Egypt.

Confronted by Hamas nihilism, Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu has no effective response. The more his soldiers destroy and kill in Gaza, the more visceral becomes the hatred against Israel of the people of that vulnerable territory. Instead of rejecting Hamas for having brought the hellfire of Israeli power upon them, they turn to it as a savior delivering vengeance. As if the inaccurate homemade rockets of Hamas, sometimes made from drainpipes, allow them to hold their heads up honorably in front of Israel’s wrath.

In Gaza, Sisi is seen increasingly as an Israeli ally, which is an embarrassing situation for his medium-term popularity among the Egyptian people. Surprising diplomatic collaboration seems to be emerging among Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia against Hamas because of its links to the Muslim Brotherhood and earlier backing from Iran, Hezbollah and Syria. But the signals from Tel Aviv are still unclear about whether it wants to destroy Hamas or simply deter it for a few more years.

More than previous wars, Israel’s Operation Protective Edge is existential because Hamas now attacks with thousands of long-range rockets from above and battle hardened commandos emerging from tunnels below.

Destroying Hamas is an existential necessity because it is an obdurate terrorist group dedicated to eliminating the Jewish state entirely from the map by any means. In turn, Hamas now says the current war is an existential fight for the people of Gaza because being killed by bombs is better than a slow death from the near total blockades by both Israel and Egypt that have turned the territory into an open prison.

The people are asphyxiated mainly because Sisi has destroyed nearly 1,650 tunnels linking Egypt to Gaza across the 11km-wide border. The tunnels were lifelines used by Gaza’s people to smuggle all of life’s daily necessities and Hamas to smuggle weapons and money while collecting taxes on commerce.

Sisi treats Hamas like an enemy because he is convinced it sent fighters through the tunnels to foment violent resistance to his government after he deposed Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood in July 2013. Morsi was elected President following the February 2011 fall of Hosni Mubarak’s military dictatorship.

Sisi has declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization. Together with the Saudis, he seems to believe — perhaps foolishly in a world of globalized terror — that the nearly century-old underground resistance movement will not be able to rise again if Hamas can no longer help it. He may be placing too much trust in Saudi Salafists, forgetting that Salafism inspired al Qaeda and now the awful ISIL in Syria and Iraq.

Hamas has pretensions to using the current war as leverage to obtain an end to the blockades to restore some normalcy to life in Gaza. But that may be a pipedream since it has no powerful diplomatic allies.

Almost all Arab countries other than tiny Qatar have remained silent and non-Arab Turkey is the only Muslim nation to have spoken out strongly in favor of Gaza’s people and against Israel. That may be partly because rivalry with Saudi power in the wider Middle East prompts Ankara to support the Muslim Brotherhood, which Saudi Salafists see as a threat to their influence over Islam as a whole.

Yet again, Israeli civilians face intolerable insecurity because Arab politics has murkier agendas than installing peace in the Middle East. Israel’s presence and Palestinian pain are used to mask other power struggles among Muslims.

graphic via shutterstock.com

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Author: BRIJ KHINDARIA, Foreign Affairs Columnist

  • jdledell

    Brij – I do not detect once ounce of sympathy on your part for the Gaza people – they really are human beings! Hamas and the Gaza people don’t really care about the Egyptian border and tunnel closings as much as they want access to the outside world via the Mediterranean Sea. Remember 99% of the Gaza people do not hold passports so even in the best of times Egypt would not allow them in.

    Do you understand how desperate the Gaza people are? They are not a free people and Israel even determines how many calories of food to let in. They can’t travel anywhere except their tight little prison and feel they have nothing to live for. I am not condoning Hamas’ rocket firing – it is a futile gesture designed mainly to tell Israel that if you keep us locked up we are going to annoy the Hell out of you.

    One time when the British arrested my Irgun grandfather, he talked to a British colonel who was interrogating him. Irgun was making due with old Enfield rifles and fertilizer bombs and gramps asked the colonel why the Brits didn’t use their air force and tanks left over from WWII to put down the Jewish fight against the occupation. He said the British felt bad about the Shoah and did not want to act against the Jews like the Germans did. A light bulb went off in gramps head – compassion impedes achieving the goal. After his release (all they could pin on him was 30 days confinement for carrying a weapon) he made sure his Irgun comrades knew the story about compassion. I think the legacy of that story about compassion continues to ring true in Israel today. If the British wanted to, they could have obliterated the Jewish resistance easily if they used current Israeli tactics.

    The Israeli/Palestinian conflict is a subset of the wider mideast turmoil. But it can, and should, be addressed independent of other Arab issues. This is something that needs to be settled between just two parties – Israel and Palestine. They need to divide the land equitably. If it is not equitable, the peace won’t last. For all the time I spend in Israel I get the feeling listening to Israeli politicians they seem to be holding out for the maximum they can get from negotiations. By stringing out negotiations for decades and expanding settlements they will eventually have to give the Palestinians less and less land. That is the wrong goal, justice and equity should be the primary consideration.

  • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

    @jdledell

    I have not read Brij’s columns for quite a while now, but reading your comments prompted me to go back and read his column.

    I used to find Mr. Khindaria’s posts well-written and well-researched, interesting and at times provocative — as this one is — and I agreed with many of his views.

    But I stopped reading them when it became obvious that Mr. Khindaria’s would not respond to any comments — whether inquisitive, in disagreement or just plain complimentary.

    Of course that is his prerogative, but — in my opinion — it discourages what could be a good debate whereat Brij — I am sure — would be excellent at. In my own case, it also reduced my appetite for reading his columns, which is, I am sure, my loss.

    I found your comments, jdledell, also very interesting and provocative and although I don’t necessarily agree with everything, I would love to hear the author’s feedback.

    Perhaps for such informative and substantive comments, Brij might make an exception.

    I sure hope so.

  • dduck

    I usually agree with JD, but not with the first sentence of his comment.
    To me, Brij just laid out the horrible basic facts of the mess that the Israelis and the Gazans find themselves without emotionalism. I think he has empathy for the Gazans and understanding that the Israelis have a complicated situation on their hands.
    Perhaps I am dense, and I won’t mind being corrected.

  • jdledell

    I should not have included the first sentence. It did nothing to add to the discussion and, in effect, became counterproductive. The main disagreement I have with the author is his emphasis on Gaza needing ties with Egypt. I don’t know if the author has ever talked with a Palestinian but they don’t want to be dependent on ANY country. They want access to the rest of the world not just Israel and/or Egypt. Hamas would gladly give up the smuggling tunnels for a sea port. They don’t want to be a client state of anyone’s, they want to be independent.

  • dduck

    Thanks, JD, and I agree that they are not free.