Palestinian Hamas supporters gather in Gaza's seaport to protest Israel's interception of Gaza-bound ships near the seaport in Gaza City, May 31, 2010.
"End the Siege, but Keep Arms Out"
Rethinking the Gaza Blockade
Op-Ed, New York Times, Room for Debate: A Running Commentary on the News
June 1, 2010
Author: Ehud Eiran, Former Associate, International Security Program, 2010–2011; Former Research Fellow, International Security Program, 2005–2010
Belfer Center Programs or Projects: International Security
Ehud Eiran provided a response to the New York Times' question: What is a concrete course of action to take now to maintain security for Israel while addressing the humanitarian and political crisis in Gaza?
Gaza poses four challenges to Israeli security. The siege serves as a partial response to only one challenge — stemming arms flows into Gaza. It probably exacerbates all other threats. Beyond the moral difficulties of the siege, Israel's interests would be best served if it were lifted, provided that arms imports are prevented.
Only 44 miles south of Tel Aviv, the residents of Gaza's refugee camps are the closest, largest, embodiment of our deepest fears: the refugees' return.
Prime Minister Eshkol sought to solve the Gaza refugee problem in 1967. But Eshkol died in 1969 and with him died the idea that the Palestinian refugee problem is our problem. Keeping the refugees and their descendants under a siege with no hope will only solidify their support for what they consider the single just solution — return. We are therefore better off relieving the pain, not deepening it.
Second, Gaza is controlled by an Islamist organization that has vowed to destroy Israel; however, it cannot. Simply put: we are much stronger. If the siege was intended to topple Hamas, it has failed and only provides an excuse for its governmental inefficiencies.
As we learned in Lebanon in 1982, the business of regime change is tricky. It usually ends with a blow-back.
Third, Gaza has been used as a base for a 10-year shelling operation against southern Israel. This is our most acute security concern.
The siege does limit the amount and quality of weapons at Hamas's disposal, but following the 2008-2009 attack on Gaza, Israel relies primarily on deterrence and the occasional follow-up military action.
Finally, Israel was hoping that the siege would help secure the release of soldier Gilad Shalit, held by Hamas since 2006. Shalit is still a prisoner, and the siege may have only made his captors angrier and hungrier, a bad combination.
Israel is a world expert in border control. It can ease the suffering in Gaza, while deploying effective strategies, technologies and alliances (most of all, with Egypt) to maintain low levels of arms imports into Gaza. Any other route would not only be morally difficult; it would fail to serve Israel's strategic goals.
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