Co-written by Qasim Khan
Since the recent boardings of the Turkish flotilla last week and the MV Rachel Corrie on Saturday have grabbed headlines, much has been made of the economic significance of these events. However, many notable pundits continue to claim that this situation presents much less of a concern than other tensions in the region and throughout the world. Normally we would be inclined to agree with their reasoning, but a recent Economist piece on the conditions in Gaza has forced us to question this position. It appears that contrary to its intended purpose, the shunning of Gaza has resulted in increased control and legitimacy of the Hamas government. The article is a must read, but here are a couple especially important highlights:
Initially Hamas and other militant groups, drunk on their self-claimed success in forcing Israel’s departure, sought to fight their way out with projectiles. The number of mostly home-made rockets hitting Israel rose from 281 in 2004 to 1,750 in 2008; and their range rose from a few kilometres to reach Tel Aviv’s outskirts. But stung by the ferocity of Israel’s reprisals, most lethally in the January 2009 war, Hamas reined in its fire and forced others to do likewise. So far this year 34 rockets have landed in Israel, none launched by Hamas. “Hamas is defending Israel,” chuckles an Israeli foreign ministry official.
Instead Hamas has turned its energies inward. With Gazans locked inside the 40km by 10km (154 square-mile) strip, the siege has given Hamas a free hand to mould the place… At first the resistance economy failed to meet people’s needs. But today, thanks to the tunnels, Gaza’s shop shelves are brimming with goods that often arrive cheaper and faster than when Israel opened the gates.
Humanitarian agencies, with an eye on external financing, bewail the lack of development. But their indices miss the point. Gaza is redeveloping, and Hamas is making society in its own image. Huge amounts now pass through the tunnel shafts each year, creating a new economy from which Hamas creams a handsome share of the profits to finance its rule. “The siege is a gift,” says a Hamas minister.
This has created stability but at the price of a reign of fear. When rival Islamists decried Hamas’s rule in Rafah, the militants stormed the mosque and killed its worshippers. When leftists protested that the tax rises hit a people already burdened by siege, they were hauled to jail. The death penalty has been reinstituted. And insensitive to comparisons with Israel, Hamas’s forces have bulldozed the homes of Gazans who had moved onto former settlement land without authorisation. A thriving political culture has been culled to a one-faction state.
Israel was put in a no-win situation regarding the recent humanitarian missions. Let the boats make it to Gaza and lose all credibility; stop the boats and become the villain. With increased Israeli backlash, (not to mention more tempered, albeit still undeniable support from the US) and increased resistance and protest efforts, this story will only continue to dominate headlines. We would suspect that we haven’t seen the last of boats, protests and resistance on an international scale either. The problem is because of its aggressive policies, Israel will continue to find itself in no-win situations, like denying entry to Noam Chomsky this week for a lecture to be given at the West Bank’s Birzeit University; it is clear that the current path is unsustainable.
Are we saying that there will be trouble in the near future? No. Very clearly this is just part of a conflict that stretches upon a much longer time horizon. But there is a very real possibility that this conflict reaches a breaking point within the next two or three years and Gaza could very well be the impetus for the ultimate breakout of the Israeli-Palestinian-Iranian-US-Oil-Restoftheworld clusterfuck of political tension, with severe global economic ramifications.
And the catalysts keep on coming. Just before the flotilla raid, Israel deployed the first of three nuclear missile submarines off the coast of Iran for a permanent nuclear presence in the area:
The submarines could be used if Iran continues its programme to produce a nuclear bomb. “The 1,500km range of the submarines’ cruise missiles can reach any target in Iran,” said a navy officer.
Apparently responding to the Israeli activity, an Iranian admiral said: “Anyone who wishes to do an evil act in the Persian Gulf will receive a forceful response from us.”
Israel’s urgent need to deter the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah alliance was demonstrated last month. Ehud Barak, the defence minister, was said to have shown President Barack Obama classified satellite images of a convoy of ballistic missiles leaving Syria on the way to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Binyamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, will emphasise the danger to Obama in Washington this week.
Of course, Netanyahu never met with Obama as the flotilla raid happened a day later. The increasingly vocal alliance between Iran and Hamas, in enmity against Israel, has extensive implications on US foreign policy. Its positioning with Israel is finding increasing fragility, due to international pressure against Israel’s recent actions; meanwhile, its anti-Iran policy is at odds with further neutralization of its relations with Israel. With its own enormous problems domestically, the United States is at a critical turning point in its foreign relations regarding Israel, and the recent global anti-Israeli sentiment (which may increase as Israel rejects demands for an international probe on the Gaza flotilla raid) is putting pressure on Obama to not end up going the route of Bush 2.0 regarding Middle Eastern politics.
Political momentum is vital to furthering causes, as the anti-offshore drilling backlash to the recent BP turmoil attests to. And with anti-Israeli sentiment seeing a resurgence on the eve of recent events, further aggression from Israel will lead to a positive-feedback cycle of political death. Meanwhile, Israeli patrol killed four Palestinian militants diving off the Gaza coast today. The political ramifications of this, particularly in the global community (and thus affecting US policy), are enormous. Yet a more tempered stance from Israel would provide even more momentum for a homegrown revolution in Gaza.
And with Hamas gaining political and economic control in Gaza, time is of the essence for the United States to position itself properly. If it decides to use the Iranian support of Hamas as justification for a resurgence of American-Israeli relations, a political dichotomy will unfold in foreign relations, and Obama may be forced to go way of GWB. As Bush once said, “Fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again.” And the international community will not let itself be fooled again by an aggressively militant United States presence in the Middle East. If the declining, yet still very existent, American support of Israel continues, Israel could find itself struggling for alliances and forced to increase its already aggressive policies. Either way, time is becoming a factor, and as the Economist puts it, “the Obama administration’s failure to cast a blanket veto on any deprecation of Israel is depicted in Israel almost as a betrayal,” rendering neutrality/indifference not an option for the USA.