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Gaza, the Gordian knot

Gaza___ the formula of a quick fix and hope for the best has failed. The simple fact that the recent war in the Gaza strip is the third in six years is enough proof of the futility of one lull after another. The civilians in Gaza cannot handle another dose of a pain remedy that eases …

Nervana Mahmoud
Nervana Mahmoud

Gaza___ the formula of a quick fix and hope for the best has failed. The simple fact that the recent war in the Gaza strip is the third in six years is enough proof of the futility of one lull after another. The civilians in Gaza cannot handle another dose of a pain remedy that eases the immediate anguish while allowing both sides to claim a fake victory.

Where is Omar Suleiman? Where is Morsi? The quest to find a responsible power to broker a ceasefire is simply futile. Throughout the last six years Hamas and Israel have tried to get away with their mistakes and expected external mediators to bail them out. Now Hamas is fighting for its survival and any compromise can ultimately end its rule of Gaza. Netanyahu, if he fails to restore calm, also fears for his political career. There are no mediators that can forge successful, subsequent deals with irresponsible enemies who rush to fight, while looking for a ceasefire deal. Gaza is a story of two sides that shoot themselves in the foot.

On the one hand, Israel’s disengagement from Gaza in 2005 without a permanent peace deal with the Palestinians was a cynical gamble to offload from its shoulders a huge chunk of the Palestinian population. It clearly did not work. The failure to reach peace has thus yielded irrational, radical resistance movements. Israel now continues to believe that shelling the deprived strip, despite mounting civilian casualties, will deter Hamas. This has not worked either.

On the other hand, Hamas deliberately ignores what is evident in that it cannot be a governing body and a resistance movement in the same time. The Islamist group is paying the price for its ill-fated takeover of Gaza from its rival Fatah in 2007. Even after the 2012 ceasefire deal, and despite having its patron Morsi in power for many months after, and along with a high–profile visit from the Emir of Qatar, Hamas did not build a single shelter in Gaza to protect its citizens.  Hamas fails to appreciate that acting as a conventional army, and firing long-range missiles into the heart of Israel without having defense capabilities, would earn the group a shared responsibility for Israeli retaliation.

Those who look for Egyptian mediation overlook the fact that two previous confrontations have made a lull a predictable outcome, and this narrows the window of palatable compromises that can be accepted by both sides. Needless to say, many in Egypt have harshly criticized all the previous Egyptian mediations. The Mubarak formula of closing the border, tolerating the smuggling, and concurrently maintaining friendly links with Israel, was considered hypocritical. Later, political Islamists who labeled Mubarak as traitor for mediating with Israel, loved the idea of Morsi the “mediator” during the 2012 confrontation, and maintained a low key, almost muted criticism of Israeli aggression, which was also considered hypocritical by many Egyptians, especially after a ceasefire deal that technically limited the Palestinian’s “right of resistance.”

It is not just the hostility between the current leadership under Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi and Hamas leaders in Gaza that make any Egyptian mediation difficult. Hamas has ruled Egypt out as negotiator for a ceasefire. The attempt to smuggle rockets from Gaza, and to launch rockets from Sinai to Israel, will not entice the Egyptian authorities to help Hamas. Furthermore, the Muslim Brotherhood exploits the crisis to compensate for their failure to gather substantial protests on the anniversary of the ousting of Morsi on July 3. It is no coincidence that both the Brotherhood and Turkish leaderships advocate the 2012 ceasefire agreement that Morsi, undeservedly, gained credit for. Any new lull negotiated by Sisi on the basis of the “Morsi’s deal” will be counterproductive for Al-Sisi and his political clout inside Egypt.

Gaza has become a real Gordian knot. The chronic nature of the problem and the suffering of civilians have worked in favor of Hamas; whitewashing its political errors, and highlighting to the Israelis the limitations of their ugly, albeit futile deterrence. Despite the bluffing, most Israelis will not tolerate the heavy casualties that are likely if they were to reoccupy the Gaza strip. Nonetheless, as Hisham Melhem has pointed out, every time Hamas lobs rockets into Israel hoping to change the Israeli calculus, the exercise ends in failure.

It is unclear how the tragedy of Gaza will end. It is safe to say, however, with a certain degree of certainty that regardless of the outcome, the rules of the game have changed. Neither Hamas nor Israel can get away permanently with the “rockets versus strikes” formula in a region that has dramatically shifted. New players, new alliances, and new threats will ultimately force both sides to stop their cynical gambles. In addition, Hamas will not be able to exploit the tenacity of the Gazans forever.

There is so little that Egypt and other regional and international forces have left that can save both sides from self-inflicting harm, nonetheless they can focus on the civilian population and work to alleviate their misery. Sisi is quietly trying to detangle Gaza from Hamas. He is doing this by intermittently opening the border, and sending food and medical supplies to struggling civilians. That is not enough. Despite security risks, Egypt needs to keep the border open and maintain its humanitarian support. The scenes of Palestinian civilians trapped at the Rafah border are unacceptable. The Egyptian army can help the weak, the elderly, and the injured. A field hospital at the border may be needed if the situation deteriorates.

There are moments in history that force stakeholders to rethink their tactics and their general attitude; this crisis is one of those moments. Gaza deserves our help. Feckless warlords do not.


Nervana Mahmoud is a doctor, blogger and writer on Middle East issues. You can follow her on Twitter @Nervana_1


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  • Al Masry

    Thanks for your analysis. In a nutshell: Hamas gang leaders are are poppets of Iran. Gaza must be disarmed and Hamas gang leaders put on trial Egypt should effectively rule Gaza and Sinai for its security importance since king Tohotmos.

  • Al Masry

    We must be prepared for the modern day Mongols (ISIS). They are coming from Chechnya and Cocas mountains after Arabs’ oil. The clock is ticking loudly. Tahya Misr, Allah Akber.

    • Richard Barnes

      I’m impressed with your link of ISIS to the Mongols. There are some interesting similarities.

  • Richard Barnes

    Color me surprised! Hamas once again lost a golden opportunity to keep it’s rockets and missiles and try to fight again another day. With the brutal practice of grabbing it’s civilians and dragging them up to the roof tops as human shields along with Israel’s agreement to adhere to a cease fire for 6 hours today; the people of Gaza have witnessed the pinnacle of dishonor. With the launching of over 70 missiles and rockets by Hamas while Israel stood down, Hamas has caused the following self inflicted wounds. Egypt will now be quietly in Israel’s corner and to a smaller degree even the PA will distance themselves from Hamas as if for no other reason, it would be politically expedient to do so. In my view Hamas would now literally have to defeat Israel to remain a viable political entity. The voters in Gaza will have the above memories seared into their ballots the next time they elect leaders and no amount of forced human shielding can prevent that damage!

    It is also a political win for Israel over the UN who has been critical of Israeli military response. Even Erdogan will now have to either sit quietly or show himself to be willfully blind to truth. They have been made to look the fool and deservedly so!

    Though this conflict wages on the political war has been won already. This is just another example of the wars we have waging world wide today. The list of wars today just goes on and on! The God of Israel is God and he foretold of this time. He told us of these earth quakes, wars, starvation and sickness. He told us about how man kind would increase in knowledge and people would travel too and fro in the end times that we are living in today, the time after Israel became a nation again. Did you know that we have more earthquakes of 5.0 or higher than at any time in recorded history? What’s about to happen? What is going on? Do you want to know? I believe that today’s world wide wars and events will escalate to a point that we are going to face a new world economic and political order. Soon an agreement of 7 (360 day) years will be made with the nations who hate Israel. That agreement will be viewed as evil in God’s eyes and has been foretold. I have been watching for these things for decades and now they are on us. I wrote a book that discusses some of the prophecies written about in the Bible. It’s a short read of 6 or 7 pages and it’s totally free. I hope you will have a look: http://www.booksie.com/religion_and_spirituality/book/richard_b_barnes/after-the-rapture-whats-next

    • Baz

      Do you have evidence that Hamas drags people up to roof tops. Israel and Hamas are both traders of violence.

  • sam enslow

    All the complaints about foods and medicines not being available in Gaza, but there are no shortages of rockets. No money to buy the necessities of life, but there is always money for more rockets and guns. Someone should look to see who is benefiting from this terrible situation. Many who cry about the poor Palestinians do so while wearing $2000 suits. Follow the money.
    Egyptian tunnels were not for food. They were used for arms smuggling, terrorist transfers in both directions, and human trafficking (including child brides and slaves).

    • Al Masry

      Do you mean Hamas tunnels; not Egyptians? The blame for this tragedy is on Euro-Zionists. They took the land and water from PALS and are refusing to compensate or seriously negotiate. Because Holocaust, Euro-Zionists are driven by greed for land and fear from others. there will be no peace until Arab-Jews take control. we loved and respected them for over 2000 years.

      • FOAF

        “Arab Jews” have control you idiot. The majority of Jews in Israel are from or descended from Jews expelled from Arab countries that once had thriving Jewish populations but are now Judenrein.

  • Glenn

    One of the most balanced articles I have rad since this new conflict has erupted. Through all of the media bias, especially in the Arabian peninsular, it is hard for most people to make a sensible and balanced opinion of this struggle. I don’t agree about Israel unloading Gaza to reduce Palestinian liabilities. I believe it was an experiment to prove that the PLO has, in fact, left the armed struggle behind and that productive peace talks would follow. Israel has every night to be afraid of a peace deal by giving up the Jordanian border or relying on Hamas to continue a charter full of anti semitism and call for Jews to be killed (behind rocks, bushes and trees included…Article 7). Anyway, let’s hope someday people in the region will come to their senses.

  • Bennett Graff

    This is a sad turn of events. Israel responds with its “disproportionate” assault to the inevitable human horror that was going to occur when Israeli teens decide to go hiking in the occupied territories–an essentially hostile area to them. The perpetrators are presumably Hamas splinter members who pay little heed to Hamas leadership as it is–and of course in the West Band where Hamas is not even in control. Frankly this kind of outbreak is not merely tragic: it is systemic and it is hardly any wonder that anyone–Egypt, the U.S. Qatar, whoever–wants to try and play peacemaker (or ceasefire enforcer) when the retention of power by both sides–Netanyahu on one and Hamas on the other–demands not merely ideologically but ontologically this kind of aggression. There may be quiet encouragements to maintain ceasefires going on, but why bother with public displays when the Israeli government and Hamas can’t exist without hewing to positions that of necessity create the conditions for these outbreaks? I won’t even call for the traditional pox on both houses. I prefer to let others assess or argue who is more to blame than the other. To me, even that exercise is pointless at this juncture.

  • Thank you so much for this article.

    It’s the most balanced and pragmatic article I’ve read so far. The clear facts-no more and no less and they’re tragic enough. I’m an Israeli and I’m just tired of this false “status quo” that leads us ALL straight to hell. Both sides are wrong in actions and both sides also have a point and emotions took over the discourse until they made it impossible.

    What we (and by we I mean Israelis and Palestininans alike) need is this kind of pragmatic no-nonsense discourse to move forward and stop this stagnation from becoming a terminal disease that will destroy this entire region.

  • Al Masry

    Ms. Mahmoud: Your analysis is wrong. Gaza is gateway to Egypt since king Tohotmos. It has half million Egyptians and accepted one million PALS refugees. As the legal protector of Gaza in the Peace Agreement, Israel allowed Iran and its poppet Hamas to control Gaza. Hamas thugs turned Gaza to smugglers and Islamist terrorists and threatened Egypt security. Israel is doing the dirty job of cleaning Gaza from thugs before Egypt rule it by brute force with zero tolerance. I served in Sinai and know its realities on ground.

  • Al Masry

    Sadat is our hero and great master. He gave Israel Sinai to rule as part of the Peace Agreement. It was actually a poison bait Israel swallow it gusto and still suffering from its food poisoning. LOL.

  • Al Masry

    The current war in Gaza is called in military science, “A War of Attrition.”. Hamas is dragging the war as much as possible before Iran/Hezbollah finish it. Israel is now screaming for Cease Fire ASAP and Mr. Kerry came twice to Egypt bagging for it. . It is man’s war since eternity: To kill in order to save life. I do not see anything wrong with that twisted logic of war.

  • Al Masry

    Holly Land: Who is land, Who is promise? Can anyone answer these questions without referring to religions? I think it was given to my Moorish family many years ago before they escaped Spain. LOL

  • Thankful

    Dear Nervana. Thank you very much for your words. Your words deeply resonated with me. I am an Israeli. Nevertheless, I refuse to be identify as such (all in general). We are all human beings. We are all in this together. We are all being oppressed by the grammar of our political discourse (some [i.e. the Palestinians], undeniably, much more than others). It is time we, the people of the middle east, stop talking the language of binary divisions (friend/foe) and adopt a new language. I think your words are written in such a language!

  • Al Masry

    Who is land, who is promise?

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