Israel applied to the United Nations today asking it to prepare for an outpouring of Gaza refugees to Egypt in preparation for a massive offensive against Hamas militants firing rockets at Israel:
Israel has asked U.N. aid agencies how long it would take them to set up “humanitarian corridors” from Egypt to the Hamas-run Gaza Strip in the event of a broad Israeli offensive, Israeli officials said on Tuesday.
The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the assessments were part of Israel’s stepped up “contingency planning” should such an operation be ordered to try to stop cross-border rocket fire by militants.
In closed-door meetings, Israel asked the U.N. agencies specifically about the feasibility of opening aid corridors from the Egyptian town of El Arish to Gaza’s Rafah border crossing with Egypt, a distance of about 30 km.
…Israeli officials say they believe that allowing aid supplies through Egypt could help mitigate an international backlash to an all-out offensive. It could also advance Israel’s goal of limiting its responsibility for the Gaza Strip.
Haaretz expands on the general subject reporting that defense minister Barak is seeking legal opinions about the viability of expelling civilians from Gaza combat zones:
Legal experts in the government say it is difficult to decide whether Israel can move Palestinian civilians from areas in the northern Gaza Strip where rockets are fired against Israel. They say international law is based on precedents, and in Israel’s case the matter is in many ways unprecedented.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak had requested legal advice…on the possibility of moving Palestinian civilians from the rocket-launching areas. The idea would be to give the Israel Defense Forces greater room to maneuver and target rocket crews without endangering civilians.
…During the meeting, Barak presented a series of possible operations the IDF could undertake in the Gaza Strip on which he asked for a legal opinion. Barak raised options including cutting all fuel supplies to Gaza, firing single artillery shells against sources of rocket fire, clearing areas in the Strip from which Qassam rockets are launched, evacuating civilians from these areas, and shelling or bombing areas after warning the civilians to leave.
“We have a responsibility to the residents of Sderot and we cannot allow this [to continue] without providing an answer,” Barak said at the meeting. “We must find ways to respond to the firing against Israel. I understand the legal limitation but we need to find the ways to make it possible to act.”
…Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai suggested declaring areas in the Gaza Strip “combat zones,” and inquired whether it is possible to warn the residents there that they are in danger and recommend that they leave. Vilnai also said this could be done through flyers or announcements in the media.
The legal experts were requested to prepare an opinion on a “gradual evacuation of the population” in Gaza from areas of fighting.
Some will judge this as bellicose posturing on Israel’s part. The psychology seems to be akin to Nixon wanting the North Vietnamese to believe he was a madman prepared to use nuclear weapons during the Vietnam War. Of course, this only works if a nation feels it has something to lose. Hamas feels nothing of the sort. In fact, if Israel actually implemented this type of offensive it would arouse massive pan-Arab support for Hamas. It would create a massive refugee crisis within Egypt, potentially destabilize that country and provoke Egypt to act not against Hamas, as Israel expects, but against Israel itself as the source of the provocation.
Sending massive numbers of refugees fleeing to Egypt would also thrust the burden of caring for them on the Egyptians and essentially make Gaza Egypt’s problem rather than Israel’s. Extremely convenient for Israel. But why Egypt would acquiesce in such a proposition when it would be borderline insane as policy is anybody’s guess.
Another benefit to Israel from a massive population outflow from Gaza would be depopulation of the area so that Israel can render it a ghost town inhospitable to the kinds of attacks that Palestinian militants have used against it. Of course, Israel would have to prevent these refugees from returning or the cycle of violence would immediately resume. If Israel actually does even half of what I’ve outlined it would strengthen the war crime brief that many international lawyers have been preparing against it since Lebanon if not before.
In addition, such barbarity on Israel’s part, reminiscent of its depraved behavior during the Lebanon war would also arouse massive opprobrium against Israel and sympathy for Hamas in the international community. Israel, of course, expects the U.S. to act, just as it did in Lebanon, as its chief enabler. No doubt Condi Rice and George Bush would be, if not happy, then at least acquiescent in such a role.
In that case, the question becomes how active is the EU prepared to be in intervening to halt the mayhem one can expect from such a punishing Israeli operation. The European record is fairly dismal in this regard. They played a constructive role in the aftermath of the Lebanon ceasefire but did little beforehand to halt the slaughter. Have they learned anything that will help halt the fire next time?
Another part of the Israeli psychology is to rattle its sabers in the deluded view that it will more likely end up with an outcome it desires. Under this scenario, it threatens massive invasion of Gaza in order to prepare the world for a lesser operation. The hope being that when the world sees Israeli action as less devastating than what was threatened, the uproar will be less. Of course, this is a morally bankrupt tactic and it won’t help Israel politically as well.
The plain truth of the matter is that Israel has only one option–the very one it refuses: to negotiate with Hamas. No matter how many refugees leave, Israel will have to face resumption of hostilities sooner or later. If Israelis in Sderot and Ashkelon refuse to accept the suffering they’re experiencing (as well they should) their government has only one choice. All the other choices are doomed.
I wrote during the Lebanon war that the definition of insanity is doing something again that failed the first time in the expectation that your luck will change. Which makes Israel’s Gaza policy insanity personified. The problem is that the insanity hurts the Israelis far less than it hurts innocent Gazans. In our world, we try intervene to prevent the insane from harming others. It doesn’t really matter whether the victim is a little insane as well (which can surely be said to be the case regarding Hamas). Both should be prevented from doing harm. But on the world stage it’s not so simple. Would that it were.
Bill Pearlman says
Negotiate with who exactly, about what. And when Hamas builds up their army and launches war #2 what would be the Richard Silverstein plan.
Richard Silverstein says
Bill Pearlman says “when.” I say try something that’s never been tried. Negotiate a ceasefire w. Hamas that includes the release of Shalit and the end of rocket fire along w. cessation of offensive action by the IDF against militants. Your plan is mistrust them & prepare for inevitable war. Mine is be pragmatic & test out Hamas’ seriousness before you resort to force.
I seriously do not see Hamas invading Israel and in a blitz campaign taking over Sderot, Nablus, Tel Aviv… I mean LOL man come on!
Yet more proof of Barak’s weakness and unsuitability to come to decisions which will bring long-term benefits for all.
This is not just a Richard Silverstein suggestion – this is what 64% of Israelis are demanding – a negotiated ceasefire with the Hamas and a negotiated return of Shalit with the Hamas. The Hamas have already proven their ability to crush the clan-warlords in securing the release of Alan Johnson, but we can only hope that the Hamas have already secured Shalit and that he is not being held by Fatah clan-warlords, since only if he is being held by the Hamas would Shalit be well-treated and his life guaranteed, (in accordance with Islamic Law, which I have been studying in depth for some time now).
However, we already know that the US would not be supportive of Israel in these negotiations – the USG have much to lose were Israel and Palestine to move away from a situation of permanent war. Israel is literally between the devil (USG’s influence in their affairs) and the deep blue sea (permanent war due to constant confiscation of the land of Palestinians and never-ending settlement expansion in the occupied territories).
Bill Pearlman said:
Ex-Mossad Chief, Efraim Halevy has been, for some considerable length of time now, suggesting that Israel should negotiate with the Hamas government.
Halevy has proven to us that his commentaries, time and time again, are sound, pragmatic, and are based on a realistic understanding of the situation ‘on the ground’.
I don’t know, Bill, I feel sure you wouldn’t don’t support martyrdom tactics, but that’s exactly the road that Israeli govt. is pushing it’s enforced military-service youth down when they stubbornly declare ‘No negotiations’. Who knows how many more IDF kids could be killed in this ill-proposed onslaught or how many more hostages could be taken. Who knows how many new suicide bombers and Qassam launchers have been birthed through the most recent onslaught or how many will be produced if the ill-proposed future onslaught of Barak’s were to be given the green light. It’s not like we are ignorant of the processes of creation of these types of people anymore – enough studies and enough data have been collected over the years which prove the processes of their creation.
Richard: I have never heard that Hamas is interested in a settlement with Israel. The best we could hope for is a “hudna”. If you have reason to believe that Hamas is interested in coexisting with Israel, recognizing Israel or as Halevy said is quoted above, “providing explicit recognition for the legitimacy of zionism” I’d be interested to hear why you believe that.
‘I say try something that’s never been tried.’
Me too, Richard.
This way Hamas, Israel, Fatah et al. are able to step outside the loop for once, take up an enforced sabbatical, a gap year away from all their many martial activities. OK, it’s only a stopgap measure; it won’t solve the main problem but it can buy the time needed to sort it out. It provides both a welcome respite for everyone involved in this conflict – and reason enough for EVERYONE to keep matters on hold until something far better than the present arrangement is found.
In the end, what is there to lose? A little bit of ‘Israel,’ perhaps, a few acres of ‘Palestine’ – maybe not even that. What is there to gain? A proper breathing space, a period of sufficient calm and reflection in which, free from the shadow of real or threatened violence, a better and brighter future can be sourced from out this increasingly malevolent monster.
Not even an army of politicians could ever solve this one on their own? Not in a million years. Even the best of them – and that’s not too many – will need assistance, some massive leverage to alter the course of such continual confrontation.
“Give me a lever long enough and I can move the world. …”
OK. Let’s say we’ve got our lever,… http://yorketowers.blogspot.com… and once we’ve got the world, what’s is there then to stop us all from moving it?
Richard Silverstein says
Hamas has talked of a “70 year hudna.” That’s an awfully long ceasefire. That’s in effect a pro forma settlement. During that time a full settlement could easily be agreed upon.
Hamas speaks of a 70 year Hudna because it doesn’t WANT a settlement. They would use a hudna only to prepare themselves better for the next round of fighting. You accuse me of repeating myself, but I’m interested in understanding why you think that a settlement could easily be agreed upon. Because I am much less optimistic. I have not seen any indication that Hamas is interested in a settlement with Israel. If you have seen signs of it, I would appreciate you letting me know.
A 70 year hudna sure as hell beats the status quo.