The Gaza Trap

Source: Flash90/TOI

In 2005, the Government of Israel took a decision that baffled people within and outside the country alike. Strongman Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the architect of the Lebanon War and a celebrated war hero, decided to withdraw forces, control, and settlements from Gaza Strip. A move of political genius, it would set the course for the security discourse in Israel in the decade to come.

Israelis were dragged out of their homes by the military and construction bulldozers demolished those buildings, right in the manner Israeli bulldozers level the houses of Palestinian militants to the ground. Israeli settlers were shouting slogans against their own government and leader and there was a sense of anger and belligerence among the more conservative Zionist factions within Israel.

Little did anyone knew this single decision will help solidify the political leadership of his conservative and hawkish Likud Party, following years of disappointment and failed efforts for peace between Labour administrations and Arafat, including those of Sharon’s own government. With separating the control in Gaza Strip, the Ariel Sharon administration clearly made the difference clear by the section fully controlled by Palestinians, soon to fall in the hands of the extremist militant group Hamas and Islamic Jihad, in contrast with the PLO administered West Bank where Israeli Defense Forces have control to this day.

From that year onward, Israel and the tiny Gaza Strip has had three major wars with no consequential result in any of them. The Israel-Gaza conflict has become the new normal in the Middle East. Whenever something significant is about to occur in Israel such as the Eurovision contest or if Israel takes a brutal security measure, the Hamas regime in Gaza fires its improvised explosive rockets into the Southern parts of Israel within its range in towns like Beer Sheba, Sderot, Ashdod, and Ashkelon.

Source: Israel Matzav Blog

There is no need to underestimate the threat of the rocket attacks from Gaza just because they are facing a naval blockade. Israel must be facing far worse attacks if this blockade is lifted since Hamas is not able to do a bad job of smuggling them in through tunnels from Egypt and with support from Jordan and West Bank too.

Not taking away anything from the evil of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the Gaza controlled territory, in stark contrast to the IDF controlled West Bank, offers a clear and present threat to the Israeli population. You could argue that at the time Sharon was withdrawing from Gaza Strip, he knew such a security predicament would present itself to Israel in the coming years.

Gaza not only keeps Israelis effectively separated from the enemy but also keeps them in close proximity to a lethal threat. This significantly weakens the impact of liberals within Israel who have never won an election convincingly since then. Especially with the horrors of the Intifada fresh in the memory of Israeli citizens, the now disappeared threat of the terrorists and suicide bombers have uplifted the security situation in Israel significantly.

The contribution of right-wing Israeli governments led by Likud to the security of Israel is undisputed. But the rekindling of the conflict with Gaza every now and then not only reminds the Israeli people that a threat in the neighborhood will always loom on their head but will also show the world what Palestinians are capable of if left to their own device. This threat would have been not only worse but easily unacceptable and unsustainable if Israel were to withdraw from the West Bank. This is why the idea of annexing the West Bank does not face as much resistance in Israel as it would have a few decades ago.

With Israel aiming to become the regional leader in technology and innovation, a safe, stable, and secure environment are imperative to its growth. The people of Israel do not seem to be in a mood for experimenting with their security and rely on the conservative coalition that has delivered relatively calm years in comparison except for the continual Gaza wars. This also keeps the pressure up on US Congress to increase funding for Iron Dome, which is of late seeing the inclusion of progressives like Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Alessandria Ocasio-Cortez who openly attack the idea of military aid to Israel.

The Israeli right wing and Hamas feed off each other in this conflict in terms of power and the end result is miserable living conditions for the people of Gaza and the people in Southern Israel. Of course, Israel would ideally not want this conflict to continue for a single more day, but it is simply not possible with an autonomous Gaza Strip under Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad which is continually supported by the likes of Iran and its allies in the Middle East.

Therefore, the Gaza Trap will keep the hardliners in power on both sides of the conflict. And we will continue to see the Gaza wars in the headlines every few months.

Pakistan’s Iran Opportunity

Source: Al-Arabiya

Pakistan can be very creative in its foreign policy when it comes to Afghanistan. Pakistan has been so nervous about its Western border since the days of the Cold War, that it is running proxies in the shape of Afghan Taliban to this day, manipulating who holds control in Kabul. With such a history, drastic foreign policy moves are not beyond Pakistan.

Pakistan has had a troubled history with terrorism. And now even the United States has lost Pakistan over its support for the Afghan Taliban. This means all the hard work done by the Pakistan ISI and the military to undo the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan has gone down the drain. This means that all the Pakistan efforts for the War Against Terror during Bush and Obama administrations amounted to nothing. This means that Pakistan is not the hero of the Cold War anymore. That’s a huge problem for a nation that heavily depends on lending its military service to political conflicts.

Pakistan is between a rock and a hard place as far as its financial survival is concerned. It can thank Allah for making Saudi Arabia so rich and powerful in the region so that it can bail it out every time, along with the United Arab Emirates. But with its flirtation with China’s Belt and Road, . Then again, is Pakistan the only country to have entered into China’s debt trap? I think the West can live with it. But can it live with Pakistan’s ongoing support for terrorism?

A week ago in Pulwama in Jammu and Kashmir, an alleged Jaish-e-Muhammad suicide bomber, a local Kashmiri youth named Adil Ahmed Dar killed 44 CRPF troopers in a bus. Jaish-e-Muhammad reportedly accepted the responsibility of the attack. India immediately blamed Pakistan for the attack, as well as vowed to retaliate and to diplomatically isolate Pakistan. A day earlier, a bus of Iranian revolutionary guards was attacked killing 27 guards in Zahedan near the Baluchistan border. Iran blamed an alleged Pakistan-based Islamist militant group Jaish-ul-Adl for the attack and asked Pakistan to either take action or allow Iran to enter Pakistan to retaliate. Pakistan has dismissed both the complaints while assuring its action on terrorism.

In the wake of these events on the occasion of the state visit of the Saudi Crown Prince to Islamabad, a press conference was held by the Saudi and Pakistani foreign ministers was held. The Pakistani foreign minister was embarrassed by Adel Bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir, the Saudi Foreign Minister for openly addressing Iran’s double standards on terrorism and commented that “it is very strange coming from the foreign minister of the chief sponsor of terrorism was calling out other nations for accusing others to be engaging in terrorism activities in Iran.” And then he went on to list Iran’s alleged contribution to global instability and terrorism.

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This perfectly elaborates how Saudi Arabia views Iran as far as terrorism is concerned. The United States, Israel, and most of the other Sunni countries are pretty much aligned with that viewpoint as well but should these states decide to surround and attack Iran, will Pakistan continue its stance of neutrality?

While nobody in Pakistan is excited at the thought of Iran being attacked, especially due to the way the Shias see Iran, it could still possibly be Pakistan’s “get-out-of-jail-free” card if it becomes a major player to take it down. Even though India has so far been unable to obtain a global consensus on Pakistan being recognized as the state sponsor of terrorism, such a development could further corner its progress. Ideally, Pakistan must do that while cracking down on the terrorists it is alleged to be supporting, but all things equal, this could be Pakistan’s redemption and the West may tolerate its irresponsible policies for one more good reason. This sounds far fetched but will probably not be too improbable especially if Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu are reelected in their respective elections. Trump scrapping the Iran Nuclear Deal negotiated by the Obama administration and calling for the isolation of Iran are steps in that direction. And Iranian generals vowing the annihilation of Israel certainly doesn’t help either.

However, this strategy is not possible without bringing Israel into the equation with Pakistan. As a matter of fact, such a campaign will be the perfect time for Pakistan to establish its diplomatic relations with Israel openly and officially, even if it has to bypass Saudi Arabia’s approval. Though you could argue that if we reach a stage where Iran will undergo such a military siege, Saudi Arabia would arguably have become an open ally to Israel already, paving the path for the rest of the Sunni nations resisting this idea. Currently, Israel is offering unconditional support to India in its fight against terrorism, because frankly they have no motivation to take care of the interest of Pakistan since it has never reached out to them.

Pakistan can not only proactively offer its air bases to Israel and the United States for campaigns against Iran, it can even step up its role in the coalition against Yemen. Many like Kunwar Khuldune Shahid are arguing that Pakistan has already conceded that it is going to be a full Saudi Arabia client state by taking the expected deals worth $20 billion, which implies that it is going to fully become a part of the anti-Iran Sunni coalition despite its earlier reservations.

If that is indeed true then Pakistan is certainly not going to make Iran any happier and cannot change India’s arrangement with Iran. However, right now there is an illusion that Pakistan enjoys good relations with Iran. Such a naked policy will do away with even the comfort of that notion, while also putting to rest the delusion that Pakistan can play the role of a bridge between Saudi Arabia and Iran. So Pakistan can be lazy and wait for Saudi Arabia and China to keep on bailing it out on international forums for the foreseeable future or take a proactive step and reach out to the West again.

But there could even be another factor in Pakistan’s reluctance to call our Iran. Perhaps Pakistan does not want all the attention in the region focused on itself by the Western world for its irresponsibility and support of terrorism.