January 27, 2009

Hamas violates and proposes a ceasfire

Gaza border - click for larger image Gaza border
(my photo - click for larger image)

An Israeli soldier was killed and three others wounded in a roadside bomb attack along the Gaza border. This comes just a week after Hamas announced a ceasefire, a ceasefire that followed Israel's unilateral ceasefire and withdrawal of its troops from the Gaza Strip. Israeli forces responded and killed one Palestinian. These violations are to be expected from a group that has vowed to destroy the state of Israel.

At almost the same time, Hamas representatives were proposing a 18-month truce with Israel, the very state they hope to eliminate. Although Egyptian intelligence mediators are pushing for a truce of longer duration, perhaps three years, Hamas representatives will probably not agree.

Why not agree to a long term truce? Simple - the representatives believe the group can sufficiently regroup and rearm in the shorter period of time and allow it to continue "the resistance." Note that "resistance" is Hamas's middle name: The term Hamas is an acronym of the Arabic words for Islamic Resistance Movement (حركة المقاومة الاسلامية - harakat al-muqawamat al-islamiyah).

The Israelis are unlikely to agree to a formal ceasefire unless they receive guarantees that the smuggling of weapons into the Gaza Strip - mostly via tunnels under the Egyptian border - will be stopped. They have severely restricted the importation of goods via the Israeli border crossings and are not likely to open them in the absence of similar guarantees.

Hamas leaders have demanded that Israel open the crossings. Of course they want the crossings open - even more chances to bring in arms and dual-use commodities that can be used for "resistance" activities. One Hamas members openly boasted that smuggling of weapons resumed on the first day of the Israeli-declared ceasefire. Usamah Hamdan, the Hamas representative in Lebanon, stated, "It is our right to have weapons, and we shall continue to enter arms into Gaza and the West Bank." He further said that anyone who thinks it is possible to prevent arms from entering Gaza is "delusional."

Hamdan is correct. The border with Egypt is riddled with tunnels. Despite the relentless pounding of the tunnels by Israeli aircraft, many are already back in operation. Tunnels are easy to dig in the Gaza soil, and there is a lot of money to be made. On the Egyptian side, efforts to eliminate smuggling will not be effective. Egyptian border guards are poorly paid and extremely corrupt. Hamas has money to bribe the Egyptians, and Iran has weapons to provide. Stopping it will require a major effort on the part of Egypt or a combination of Egypt and the international community.

I don't see it happening. Hamas will rearm, just as Hizballah did after the fighting in 2006. There will be a short uneasy truce with occasional violations like the one we saw today, and in a year or two, we'll be revisiting the war in Gaza once again.

The problem has not been solved, only deferred.