Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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Israel and Gaza

by Elliott Abrams
October 26, 2012

Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh (L) and the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani arrive at a cornerstone laying ceremony for Hamad, a new residential neighborhood in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip October 23, 2012. (Courtesy REUTERS/Mohammed Salem). Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh (L) and the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani arrive at a cornerstone laying ceremony for Hamad, a new residential neighborhood in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip October 23, 2012. (Courtesy REUTERS/Mohammed Salem).


The recent upsurge of mortars and rockets being fired into Israel from Gaza, the strong Israeli military reaction, and the possibility that a stronger reaction may yet come, have raised once again the issue of Israel’s relationship with the small area many Israelis call Hamastan. The visit to Gaza this week of the Emir of Qatar, who was the first foreign head of state to go there since Hamas took over in 2007 and who pledged $400 million in aid to Gaza, has also put the region back on the front pages.

One view suggests that the Emir’s visit is simply a disaster. The money will be very helpful to Hamas and its continued rule. The visit by a head of state itself accords Gaza almost the status of a state—and thereby helps Hamas in its continuing struggle with Fatah and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. It legitimizes Hamas and its rule in Gaza, which is obviously bad for Israel, bad for the PA, and bad for the United States and all others who view Hamas as a terrorist group.

But there is another view, put forward this week by the former Israeli National Security Advisor, retired Major General Giora Eiland.

He thinks the visit and the aid were perfectly acceptable. He does not believe Israel has any particular interest in reuniting the West Bank and Gaza, rather than seeking a greater integration of Gaza with Egypt. He also notes that efforts by Israel to strengthen the PA and its leader, President Abbas, against Hamas quite often have the opposite effect. He also believes that weakening Hamas does not strengthen Abbas and Fatah in Gaza, because they are so weak there and unable to improve their situation. Instead, weakening Hamas strengthens even more extreme salafist and jihadi groups. He argues that to the extent that Hamas comes to be more like a stable government for Gaza, with a decent economy, it will have that much more to lose from confrontations with Israel. When many more valuable targets are at risk, he believes, Hamas will be more careful.

Eiland says Israel’s only real interest in Gaza is security. He therefore urges a different policy. The first element is to respond extremely strongly to any attack that does come out of Gaza. No slow escalation, no signaling and messaging, just very quick and very tough responses that make Hamas pay a heavy price. Second, after every incident close the border completely and cut off electricity for a while. Again, that is treating Hamas like the government of Gaza and punishing it and its constituents for mortars, rockets, and border attacks. Third, don’t worry about visits by foreign leaders like the Emir of Qatar and the money they bring. And fourth, try to keep the passages between Egypt and Gaza open (though he admits there isn’t much Israel can do here). Israel’s interest is peace and quiet, he says, and this is the way to achieve it.

It is a powerful argument. General Eiland, with whom I dealt often when working at the White House, is always worth listening to, always thoughtful, and often at variance with conventional wisdom. That it is in Israel’s interest to have Egypt play a larger role in Gaza is of course not a new idea, and the fact that elements of the Muslim Brotherhood now rule in both places makes this idea more realistic. And an open border between Egypt and Gaza would make the allegations that Israel has a blockade in effect on that area even more ridiculous than they are now.

Still, there are costs. The further weakening of the PA is not, in my view, in Israel’s interest. Missing in Eiland’s proposal are additional, simultaneous moves to strengthen the West Bank economy, encourage rich Arab leaders to visit there, and take actions that lead (and enable) the PA to act more like a government that is responsible for maintaining security.

Like the rest of us Gen. Eiland is not always right, but his arguments deserve a careful hearing and vigorous debate.

Post a Comment 4 Comments

  • Posted by Dan

    Here’s a little tip, one the Arab/Muslim world already knows. The Israelis are handcuffed by Oslo and are scared to death to change the status quo. That’s why their governments left and right talk about “hard response” but wind up shooting at guys on motor scooters and empty buildings they call “weapons factories.” All the while the Israelis in the south are offered a solution: bomb shelters and hardened roofs.

  • Posted by Matt

    One sanctions take time and Hamas had just become very unpopular one from the sanctions an two from their military strategy. The Arab Spring to focus away from Gaza, part of Hamas strategy is to fire rocket and launch attacks which leads to an Israel response such as Cast Lead. Hamas cannot defeat Israel militarily, the rockets an even with Iron Dome are more so ineffective. So Hamas seek to gain global sympathy by getting beaten up, and bear in mind they use civilian locations for military purposes to maximize the civilian death toll and damage.

    One of the reasons Cast Lead was launched during Christmas/New Year period was to deny Hamas the use of global opinion and media. At that period the UN, Foreign Affairs departments are on a skeleton staff an the public are focused on other issues. Plus a complete media black was issued on the Strip. During Cast Lead because of those factors Gaza City had been encircled and the ring was being squeezed and Hamas were the closet to being defeated. The extra time delay of the international and public response compare to what they predict had not played in their favor.

    The Arab Spring has done that for 18 months and Israel threats of a Cast Lead Two and without the focus have prevent Hamas from seeking a beating. At any time over the last 18 months Israel could have launched a similar mission. In fact all Israel responses to Hamas attacks have gained little intention in the Muslim world or internationally.

    Now early on the Emir had threaten Israel over the Palestinian issue and how things will be different after the Arab Spring. Which is not yet completed and is bogged down in Syria and has be combated in Jordan for over 18 months with King Abdullah remaining in control. Both the control and of Jordan and Syria are on going battles. One King Abdullah of Jordan is a US ally and he is a Royal so it is an under the surface battle for control of the Kingdom.

    We also still consider Egypt to be in play. This issue was discussed by Israel during Libya early what comes next and how to deal with. Before the threat was made.

    Knowing King Abdullah of the House of Saud if faced with the challenge of fighting for control of Syria against Qatar via proxies and monies. He may choose to check them by allowing Assad to remain in power. Which keeps the status quo of Saudi influence. A Saudi lost for a battle of influence in Syria to Qatar is risk the King would not be wiling to take. It would severely weaken the standing and influence of the Kingdom.

    Now as the Qatar is in control of various groups in Syria and has prevented Iranian and Hizbullah hostages from being killed at times. He would know of the pending ceasefire in Syria before it was made public, hence his trip and Hamas response in firing rockets while the media and international community could be refocused on Gaza.

    Qatar is a peninsula, but I classify it as small Island. That was one of the reasons the IDF asked to purchase a Greek Island one for training to simulate a three pronged attack on an island like peninsula and because Turkey cannot be trusted. And Turkey was the last country to inject themselves into the Palestinian issue.

    Depending on how countries fall around Israel we are looking at a lower intensity enemy if like Syria the countries military’s are deconstructed in process or remain intact as Egypt. So on some fronts it will be a mix of conventional an lower intensity asymmetrical enemy an on other fronts lower intensity asymmetrical. The dependence on rockets and missile will remain as key plank in their attacks on the state.

    So the last time Israel was attack in such a manner the backer was the USSR and Qatar is not the USSR. That is the first ring control of states and enemies surrounding the state. The second ring is what the UAE police chief was speaking off about a crazy plot involving the US an Muslim Brotherhood to take over the gulf Kingdoms.

    I don’t believe it is the US or proactive American policy I believe it is Qatar. Anyway that leads to the second ring protecting Qatar control of the gulf Kingdoms, replacing Saudi Arabia as the main power but gaining control and influence over the Kingdom of Saud. This will take sometime as King Abdullah is old and the succession line is aging. It is still sometime before Qatar can make a move to gain control of the Kingdom.

    That creates the second ring a more defensive ring that protects Qatar, if the first ring is defeated. The third ring of defense is Qatar itself and the fact it is US ally. After defeating the first two rings nothing will save the third ring. And Qatar is not USSR. Libya and even Syria and the limited blow back of actions from both have led to inflated ambitions and false senses of security in relation to response of such actions.

    I had hoped that once the axis of resistance was finished and we got over that we could move forward with peace not just a two state solution but similar to the 2002 Saudi Plan that Meir Dagan spoke off including the whole region. It appears there is going to be another hurdle and that is going to occupy at least the next 10 to 15 years, in which case peace is not even worth thinking off. It is likely when we get over that hurdle and we will, there will be another hurdle place by foreign interference.

  • Posted by Hollywood Jeff

    Qatar has replaced Syria and Iran as Hamas’s benefactor and can Haniya be expected not to do anything to interfere with Qatar’s ambitions in the region which began to be realized with its support for the rebels in Libya. It is now arming extremists among the rebels in Syria, all the while using Al Jazeera as its propaganda arm.

    The recent rocket attacks into Sderot from Gaza have been in response to Israeli bombing raids which get less publicity in the US press. As long as Gaza is under siege there will be other Palestinian groups that are not beholden to Hamas that will continue attacks on Israel which in turn uses them to justify the siege which in turn etc.

  • Posted by david

    Time for hardball. Israel should make it clear that a new policy will be enforced. Any attacks on Israel coming from Gaza shall cause the annexation of land from Gaza. At the same time Israel should selectively (with air and or mortar attacks) open up the border with egypt and encourage the civilians of gaza to flee into the sinai.

    As the attacks on Israel continue the pressure should increased with the goal of the emptying of the strip of it’s civilian populations.

    Cutting off all water, electricity, food and fuel is a must. The civilian population must flee to the safety of the Sinai asap.

    In the Sinai the UN can set up refugee camps, then the gaza strip can be made an official war zone and then be leveled.

    Once leveled the lands of Gaza can be annexed and the arab refugees of Gaza can be settled with their fellow arabs of the sinai. After all Rafah arabs on either side of the so called border are the same ethnically and culturally.

    Sounds harsh? But the civilians of the Gaza Strip would have safe housing in the sinai and not be under Israeli occupation.

    Of course they would have to accept that they LOST the war.

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