Thursday, April 06, 2006

Gaza , Egypt & the EU – Time for some answers

I supported Israel’s disengagement from Gaza for reasons that need not be re-hashed.

The chaos that prevails inside Gaza was predicable. No one realistically expected the Palestinian Arabs to turn Gaza into a peaceful oasis along the Mediterranean – a prototype and a harbinger for a Palestinian state that would be connected to the West Bank.

Now it is official. Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal declares from Damascus: “We do not promise our people to turn Gaza into Hong Kong or Taiwan, but we promise them a dignified and proud life behind the resistance in defense of their honor...”

“Resistance” – a sterile euphemism for more slaughter, killing, and suffering.

So Gaza’s lovely Mediterranean coastline and its environs will remain brooding and broiling with Islamic fervor, a wellspring of hatred for modernity, Jews, and Western notions of liberty.

That is the prerogative of the democratically elected representatives of their benighted people.

But what we ought not ignore is the increasing military danger that Gaza has become.

Arms, rockets, and bullets are flowing into Gaza from the Egyptian Sinai unhindered. So too, we are told, are experts in the use of explosives and irregular warfare.

It is just a matter of time until the weapons – and the expertise – become good enough to do serious damage to Israel. For now, the Katyushas are missing their targets, and the kassams fall mostly in open fields.

When the enemy get luckier (and better), they will hit a strategic installation (the power plant in Ashkelon, for instance), or – God forbid – a kindergarten.

Then there will be a price to pay. For them and for us.

No one doubts that the IDF will be forced to launch a land invasion of the Strip – an Operation Defense Shield for Gaza.

All this begs the question: Why is Jerusalem not pressing the Egyptians to do more to control the border? And if the Egyptians are doing the best they can (as some Israeli analysts insists) and that is not good enough, why don’t we find a mechanism that would enable them to do better?

And what of the EU observers?

Are they sitting around making spaghetti or are they endeavoring to screen who comes and who goes?

And if they are not doing an adequate job – and (again) the reports are contradictory – why don’t we hear official Israel complaining?

Moreover, where is Washington which pressed Israel into signing the ill-conceived arrangements along in Rafah?

Do we really have the luxury of sitting back and saying that we can’t expect more from the Egyptians? Or that we don’t want to alienate the EU at a time when we need their support for efforts to isolate the Hamas government? Or that Condoleezza Rice has enough tzuris and we don’t want to add to them?

If so, our cost-benefit analysis is incredibly myopic.

It may make sense in the short-term not to rock the boat, to make believe Gaza is someone else’s problem, but in the long term (say a year from now) we may be setting ourselves up for a military incursion that -- by the time it comes -- will be frightfully expensive for us and well as for the enemy.

The Egyptians need to understand that Gaza can’t reasonably serve as a safe outlet for the Islamist menace that threatens Hosi Mubarak.

The EU should realize that how their observers conduct themselves on this crucial front – in the context of the dangers they face – is as a test case for future EU involvement on the ground in the region.

And Washington should make its own inquiries with Cairo and Brussels about just what is happening at the Rafah crossing.

But the ultimate responsibility rests with Ehud Olmert and Israel's security establishment.

Among its first priorities, the new government must clarify the situation along the Gaza-Sinai border and determine what – if anything – needs to be done.

We need to identify what went right – and what is going wrong – in trying to draw the proper lessons from disengagement.

In a sense, disengagement was an experiment.

To be useful experiments require careful observation.

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