Saturday, October 27, 2007

Israel: Tactics and strategy of collective punishment

AlHayat, summarizing the Israeli press, says this about the recent decision to punish Gazan civilians by gradually cutting electric power and gasoline supplies from Israel to the Gaza Strip:
Senior Israeli security officials expressed skepticism whether the punitive measures against the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip that were okayed Thursday by the Defence Minister Ehud Barak will have the desired results, namely incitement of the population against Hamas. They warn that the result could be the opposite, not to mention military escalation by Hamas, which could, in turn, justify Israel in undertaking the broad military operation in the Gaza strip, which its military leaders have wanted for some time, and which the political leadership has postponed until after the Annapolis Conference.
AlHayat continues with summaries from Maarif, Yehdiot Ahronot and Haaretz, citing various officials with differences in nuance, but with the common theme: The logic of collective economic punishment of the civilian population of the Gaza Strip is twofold: (1) Likely escalation from Hamas to justify an eventual post-Annapolis re-invasion; and (2) a further step toward complete economic and physical isolation of the Gaza Strip. The language seems to tread a line between people being "skeptical" about the announced purposes, and the idea that those announced purposes are only window-dressing anyway, the actual aim being preparation for the post-Annapolis reinvasion, as the AlHayat lead implies. The YA and Maarif articles aren't available in English, but the Haaretz piece is, and it goes like this:
There is an enormous gap between the reasons Israel is giving for the decision to impose significant sanctions against Hamas rule in the Gaza Strip, and the real intentions behind them. Defense Minister Ehud Barak authorized Thursday a plan for disrupting electricity supply to the Gaza Strip, as well as significantly shrinking fuel shipments. This is supposed to reduce the number of Qassam rocket attacks against Sderot and the other border communities. In practice, defense officials believe that the Palestinian militants will intensify their attacks in response to the sanctions.

As such, the real aim of this effort is twofold: to attempt a new form of "escalation" as a response to aggression from Gaza, before Israel embarks on a major military operation there; and to prepare the ground for a more clear-cut isolation of the Gaza Strip - limiting to an absolute minimum Israel's obligation toward the Palestinians there.
AlHayat limits itself to talking about these tactical issues, but what is much more important in the long run is the fact that Israel is resorting openly and admittedly to collective punishment of the civilian population. Among the big Arab-language papers, it was left to Al-Quds al-Arabi to highlight the point in its lead editorial yesterday, not only from the point of view of even darker days ahead for the Gaza population, but also from the point of view of Israel's more-open disregard for international law. The editorialist notes
The United Nations recently warned the Jewish state against any collective punishment against the Gaza Strip which is subject to the control of Hamas, but this did not fall on attentive ears, just as more generally the concern of the West for the suffering of the Gazans is extremely limited, not to say non-existent.


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