Those who have long dreamed of a Palestinian state need dream no longer. Hamas-ruled Gaza, while not internationally recognized as a state, is now a self-governing entity in every meaningful sense. On Tuesday it even had its first official visit, with full pomp and splendor, by a foreign head of state—the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani.
The emir announced he would be donating to Gaza an aid package reportedly worth as much as $400 million. Part of the aid package, reports the Israeli daily Israel Hayom, will be “a $150 million housing project…called Hamad City—after the Qatari emir.”
Israel has been preventing building materials from entering Gaza that Hamas could use for bunkers or other military purposes. So “in order to get around the Israeli blockade, Qatar plans to ship in the materials through the Egyptian border.”
In other words, the winds of the “Arab Spring” are clearly blowing here.
To say Qatar plays a double or even triple geopolitical game would not do justice to its versatility. It hosts a major U.S. airbase with thousands of troops. It is one of the main suppliers of the antiregime rebels in Syria. It also maintains close ties with that regime’s crucial ally, Shiite Iran.
At the same time, Qatar is a key ally of the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood and supported it in the Libyan, Tunisian, and Egyptian (as well as Syrian) uprisings. And that, from Israel’s standpoint, is where the “Arab Spring” comes in: whereas Hamas-ruled Gaza already posed a serious security problem for Israel, the possibility of Qatar and the new, Muslim Brotherhood-ruled Egypt collaborating with Gaza against Israel is more sinister in its implications.
And all this while Iran remains Gaza’s main patron—but with growing competition from the Sunni-Islamist bloc.
In any case, Israelis who live near Gaza have not been celebrating the advent of the Gazan Palestinian state. On Tuesday night, as soon as Sheikh Hamad had left, Gaza launched a major rocket barrage at Israel.
True, it was part of an exchange of hostilities that began Tuesday morning when an Israeli company commander was seriously wounded by an explosive device along the Gaza border fence. But Tuesday evening’s barrage was the start of a dramatic escalation; by Wednesday evening the Palestinian state of Gaza had fired 80 rockets and mortars at Israeli civilian communities, wounding five including two critically injured Thai workers, and smashing into seven homes.
In other words, Gaza—with the Iranian and Muslim Brotherhood blocs now vying to be its backer, and with a huge new aid package on the way—appeared to react with enthusiasm and confidence. As for Sderot, the town mentioned by President Obama in his debate with Mitt Romney on Monday, it was closed down like all the other nearby Israeli communities, children home from school and waiting with their parents for the next rocket siren.
As always, Israel faces no attractive options regarding Gaza. Operation Cast Lead of 2008-2009 inflicted heavy damage on Hamas, but it was able to recover even before gaining Qatar as a benefactor. Israel is loath to reoccupy the Strip with its teeming, hostile population. Continuing the status quo means—if not worse—recurrent rounds of hostilities like the present one and a harrowing life for Gaza-bordering Israelis.
On Wednesday evening it was reported that on Tuesday night, an arms factory in Sudan’s capital of Khartoum was bombed by four planes. Sources in Sudan claimed the factory belonged to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard—confirming earlier statements to that effect in Arab media.
Reports on Israeli TV also claimed the factory was Iranian and stressed the fact that Khartoum is slightly more distant from Israel than Natanz and Fordo, Iran’s nuclear-enrichment plants.
Did Israel have a way to retaliate against the Gaza escalation and give Iran a message without attacking Gaza itself? Israeli officials including Defense Minister Ehud Barak stayed mum, neither confirming nor denying that was the case.
What is clear, at any rate, is that with so many forces arrayed against it and constantly boosting their capacities, Israel cannot afford to stay passive much longer.
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