Monday, January 05, 2009

Martin Kramer on the Gaza Crisis

From Martin Kramer's Sandbox:
In the fog of war, it isn't just the truth that falls casualty. So does common sense. Quite a few pundits seem to think that Israel lacks a strategy in Gaza. But unlike the Lebanon war of 2006, this war has been planned in advance, and every stage has been war-gamed. Here is my read of Israel's strategic plan, which lies behind "Operation Cast Lead."

Israel's long-term strategic goal is the elimination of Hamas control of Gaza. This is especially the goal of the Kadima and Labor parties, which are distinguished by their commitment to a negotiated final status agreement with the Palestinian Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas. The Hamas takeover in Gaza reduced Abbas to a provincial governor, who no longer represents effective authority in all the areas destined for a future Palestinian state. Hamas rule in Gaza is a bone in the throat of the "peace process"—one Israel is determined to remove.

Struggle over Sanctions. But how? After the Hamas takeover in June 2007, Israel imposed a regime of economic sanctions on Gaza, by constricting the flow of goods and materials into Gaza via its crossings to Israel. The idea was gradually to undermine the popularity of Hamas in Gaza, while at the same time bolstering Abbas. Israel enjoyed considerable success in this approach. While the diplomatic "peace process" with Abbas didn't move very far, the West Bank enjoyed an economic boomlet, as Israel removed checkpoints and facilitated the movement of capital, goods, workers, and foreign tourists. So while Gaza languished under sanctions, with zero growth, the West Bank visibly prospered—reinforcing the message that "Islamic resistance" is a dead end.

Hamas in power, from the outset, sought to break out of what it has called the Israeli "siege" by firing rockets into Israel. Its quid pro quo was an end to Hamas rocket fire in exchange for a lifting of the Israeli "siege." When Israel and Hamas reached an agreement for "calm" last June, Hamas hoped the sanctions would be lifted as well, and Israel did increase the flow through the crossing points, by about 50 percent. Fuel supplies were restored to previous levels. But Hamas was fully aware that sanctions were slowly eroding its base and contradicting its narrative that “resistance” pays. This is why it refused to renew the "calm" agreement after its six-month expiration, and renewed rocket fire.

Were Israel to lift the economic sanctions, it would transform Hamas control of Gaza into a permanent fact, solidify the division of the West Bank and Gaza, and undermine both Israel and Abbas by showing that violent "resistance" to Israel produces better results than peaceful compromise and cooperation. Rewarding "resistance" just produces more of it. So Israel's war aim is very straightforward, and it is not simply a total cease-fire. At the very least, it is a total cease-fire that also leaves the sanctions against Hamas in place. This would place Israel in an advantageous position to bring about the collapse of Hamas rule sometime in the future—its long-term objective.