Saturday, June 16, 2007

Strategic Implications Of Hamas Victory In Gaza

The U.S., the European Union, the Arab League, even Israel, are rushing to support the weak and corrupt Palestinian regime of Mahmoud Abbas in the wake of the seizure of the Gaza strip by his rivals in Hamas.

But I'm afraid one of the first conclusions to draw from the Gaza outcome is that, potentially, Abbas and his Fatah movement are no match for the present realities in the Palestinian territories and that it is far more likely the terrorist Hamas organization will begin making greater inroads in the West Bank than Fatah can hope to do in the future in Gaza. The division of "Palestine" into two, therefore, is not stable.

I'm almost inclined to think that in short order it will become evident that Fatah, which made no effective use of its perceived military superiority in Gaza, is really finished, and if Hamas, and its Iranian and Syrian backers are to be prevented from taking over all the Palestinian territories, Jordan and Egypt are going to have to move in, restoring to some extent the positions they held before the Six-Day War in 1967.

How could this happen, with Israel in continuing occupation in the West Bank, and its ability to invade Gaza at any time?

Easily, if the Israelis decide that, to keep the Iranians out, they need Jordan and Egypt back. Jordan and Egypt, both, are to a great degree client states of the U.S. They could be enticed back into Palestine, either in our interest or what they perceive to be theirs. This could also afford the opportunity to put the question of an eventual Palestinian state in the bcakground.

The Israelis are realists, as is the Bush Administration. They realize the ominous character of the Hamas victory this week, and that is that a kind of power vacuum has been created in Gaza, and enemies of the U.S. and Israel, the Iranians, the Syrians and their proteges in Hezbollah, will not be slow in moving in. Already, Hamas is Iranian-influenced. It may wish to keep Iran at arm's length, but, most likely, it will not have the internal strength or strong determination sufficient to do so. Al-Qaeda is also present in Gaza, and may become more so.

What would then be the least risky course? It is to let the Jordanians and Egyptians move back in, and do the fighting that Israel and, indirectly, the United States will have to do if they don't.

A focus of both the L.A. Times and New York Times this morning is what will happen with the Gaza crossings, whether Israel will allow food, water and oil into Gaza. or whether the Egyptians will. Within hours, there was a buildup of hundreds of Gaza residents anxious to leave and move to the West Bank. Israel, properly, is cautious about letting them cross Israeli territory.

To some extent, the immediate prospect depends on whether Hamas continues to rain rockets on Israeli territory, whether it generates new incidents at the border crossings, etc. Under those circumstances, Israel might be inclined to invade Gaza and try to take care of Hamas itself, before it develops its army there along Hezbollah lines. But I think, if there is time, Israel and the U.S. would prefer to bring back the Jordanians and Egyptians.

It may be that Hamas will bide its time, seeking a more peaceful period, while militancy takes hold in Gaza, and pressure builds up against remaining Fatah institutions in the West Bank. But whether Hamas will get the time is problematic. Neither Israel, nor Iran, may be willing to give it to them. And Hamas has not shown much evidence of having much internal discipline since winning the Gaza elections two and a half years ago. Hamas itself could break into factions.

The implications, by the way, of Hamas control of Gaza are also ominous for the Mubarak regime in Egypt. Mubarak may well feel as threatened by the developments there as the Israelis, particularly if Iranian control of Hamas should grow.. Before this would happen, it could be that the Egyptian army would move into Gaza to fight Hamas.

There are some parallels here with the situation in Somalia, where the emergence of an Islamic regime was followed quickly by the American-inspired Ethiopian invasion. The U.S. and Israel will be looking for surrogates to spell an end to Hamas and/or Iranian control in Gaza, just as they have in Lebanon and Somalia.

All in all, the Hamas victory this week further complicates the situation in the Middle East. The advance of terrorist elements has already begun, and the Americans have not even begun to retreat yet in Iraq as the Democrats in Congress want.

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