Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Balk Like an Egyptian

Don't make Israel Angry.  You wouldn't like
her when she's angry...
Setting aside for a moment the humanitarian and legal contexts, as a pure matter of regional military and geopolitical effectiveness, Israel has done a very good job of securing her borders against access from any of her neighbors.  Because of Israeli belligerence, willingness to kill people in large numbers for vague reasons and oppression of the Palestinian people, the surrounding nations might be willing to at least look the other way if attackers sought to cross their frontier into Israel.  But as a practical matter, it has become just about impossible to do so.  In the north, the Lebanese border is strongly defended, and the Lebanese government itself is utterly cowed by repeated attacks and invasions from Israel over the years.  To the east, Syria and Israel have maintained a cautious truce in order to avoid a larger war, and much of Israel is buffered from direct exposure to the Syrian border by the occupied West Bank.  Southeast is the long border with Jordan, from the Dead Sea to Eilat in the far south.  This is another border secured by unrelenting militarization and decades of intimidation.  King Abdullah has maintained the policies of his father, recognizing that virtually every regional war between Arab states and Israel will be fought, at least partially, in Jordan.

Which leaves the Sinai, Israel's southern border.  Under agreements negotiated with Hosni Mubarak, who it seems had a much greater love of fabulous wealth than he did for his nation or people, the Egyptian military was banned from operating in that part of Egypt, leaving Israel in complete control of the border.  Except, of course, for the very large implications of tiny little Gaza.  Israel maintains an iron-clad embargo on the Gaza Strip, carefully keeping the population in a constant state of food-insecurity, preventing the import of construction materials to rebuild the towns and cities Israel has destroyed in wars and attacks over the years, and refusing to allow people in Gaza to export their manufactured goods, thus keeping the population mostly un- and under-employed and in poverty.  This blockade and embargo even extends to international humanitarian donations - it's hard to imagine how harsh the Western reaction would be to any other occupying nation that prevented the delivery of humanitarian aid.

But this absolute impenetrable embargo of the Gazan people has a critical weakness.  Gaza is not entirely surrounded by Israel - there is a tiny, five-mile border with Egypt, typically referred to as the "Rafah Crossing" after the name the little Egyptian town of the same name.  Under Mubarak, the Egyptians had an agreement with Israel to keep the crossing closed in support of the Israeli embargo.  This allowed Israel complete control over the lives of the people of Gaza, while Egyptian government officials could profit immensely from an institutionalized smuggling economy built up over the years in Rafah.  Since the fall of the Mubarak regime, the Egyptians, particularly the Morsi government, has made a variety of noises about opening the crossing, and have partially done so to varying extents.  But still, the people of Gaza are unemployed, hungry and living in wretched conditions, mostly because power in Egypt is still in the hands of the Generals, and the Generals are much friendlier to the Likud government than the civilian government might be.

What could change this status quo in Gaza?  Turn on your television set. The Israelis have begun bombing Gaza City and assassinating Hamas leadership figures.  If the Palestinians choose to respond, Israel can reliably be expected to slaughter them in large numbers, destroying more of their cities, their utilities, their hospitals and refugee camps.  And in response to yet another humanitarian disaster, I would expect we will see the floodgates open.  Humanitarian agencies and NGOs might be allowed, even encouraged to set up shop in Rafah, and food and medicine and concrete and money might start flowing in, and goods might begin to find their way out and to markets.  Certainly, one should not be naive - the weapons trade will thrive in this chaotic boom-town too, but the weapons trade thrives where people make war.  Make peace and the arms brokers will find other buyers elsewhere, it's just not any more complicated than that.

Israel's collective punishment of the people in Gaza was never sustainable, and it was always a matter of some fascination to speculate on what might bring it to an end.  There is a rich irony that we may see it end in the very near future, not as a result of international demands or political negotiations, but as yet another unintended consequence of Israel's intransigence and brutality...

Bending to popular pressure, Egyptian President Morsi has recalled the Egyptian Ambassador from Israel.  Morsi's political operation released a statement, saying "...“the occupation state must realize that the changes that took place in the region, especially in Egypt, will not let the Palestinian people fall at the mercy of the Israeli aggression as was the case before.”  There are already demands among both Islamist and Secular Egyptians that Morsi open the Rafah Crossing to unrestricted traffic and break the embargo once and for all.


  1. Jennifer Rubin will not agree with you...

    (Note, that's an MMfA piece about her general idiocy, but the Hamas assassination today finally got her out of her Mittens funk.)

  2. I'm going to have to have at least another cocktail before I click that link...

  3. I'd suggest a rabies shot, Mikey. No way I'm clicking on it