Time to Lift the Gaza Strip Embargo

By Meir Javedanfar

The Israeli siege of the Gaza Strip hurts Israel far more than it does Hamas. It has also been a failure in halting the flow of arms and material for the production of weaponry into Gaza.

The tunnels used for smuggling materials and arms into Gaza from the Sinai are there for all to see. In fact, Gazans have become experts in designing tunnels, and they are proud of it. There is little which the Israeli government seems able to do in order to stop them.

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The Gaza siege has strengthened Hamas' standing with Arab and Muslim organizations around the world. But the opposite has been the case for Israel. It is one of the reasons behind the massive deterioration in its relations with Turkey, which was, until recently, a key strategic ally and a friendly Muslim country. Strategically and politically, this has been a major setback. The siege has also nullified the political benefits which Israel stood to reap from its brave and just decision to remove settlements from the Gaza strip.

There is no doubt that Hamas is a terrorist organization which teaches hate to Palestinian children and indiscriminately fires rockets into Israel's cities. The government of Israel must defend itself and its citizens from the activities and racist policies of this organization. However, the time has come for Israel's leadership to reassess the economic, political and strategic viability of its policies with regards to the siege, because it is not working.

Any Israeli politician who believes that the Palestinians are going to pour onto the streets to get rid of Hamas due to the Gaza blockade is deluding himself. This is not going to happen. Only Hamas and its dismal economic policies and corrupt leaders could push the people into such actions.

It is time to make Hamas truly responsible for its actions; to transfer the burden and costs from Israel to its leadership.

The best way to do this is to end the siege. Allow the free flow of all goods into Gaza, with the exception of weapons. Position International monitors - perhaps from the EU -  on all borders.

By doing so, Hamas will lose a major justification for its hold on power in Gaza. It will also lose a major media tool. Judging by the results of the recent flotilla fiasco show, it's an extremely powerful and successful one. So successful, that Hamas is likely to encourage repeat performances by other flotillas in order to boost its own standing at the expense of Israel's.

More importantly, by removing the siege, Hamas will be seen for what it truly is: a corrupt, incapable establishment built on on animosity and hate.

There's another important reason to lift the siege, and that is Iran. Ali Khamenei's regime is not what it used to be, as its power base in Iran has taken a major hit. Now, more than ever, he will need to find allies abroad so that he can use them as tools to create distractions abroad.

There is also the question of Iran's nuclear program. With sanctions around the corner, it is very possible that the Supreme Leader will want to launch a new war against Israel as means of reducing its standing abroad. This means that the Palestinian question, especially Hamas, is going to become more crucial to him. By removing the siege, Israel will be weakening one of Iran's major allies. Furthermore, if Hamas does initiate hostilities, it would be easier for Israel to justify its position abroad - meaning it could come out with better results in such a conflict, both militarily as well as politically.

The strength of a country lies in its capability to change its policies in order to fit new realities on the ground. In the battle against Hamas, the state of Israel must adopt policies which weaken the group's domestic power base and international exposure. Lifting the Gaza siege would be a powerful way to strengthen Israel's security and standing - both at home and abroad.

Meir Javedanfar is an Iranian-Israeli Middle East analyst and co-author of The Nuclear Sphinx of Tehran: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the State of Iran.

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