About two years ago, when the Israel Defense Forces withdrew from the Gaza Strip, a suggestion was raised to either get rid of the IDF Coordination and Liaison unit - the recent, and apparently superfluous, incarnation of the Military Government and Civil Administration - or turn it into a civilian inter-ministerial authority. The idea was swept away in the stormy yet gradual Hamas takeover, the continued attacks on Israel and the IDF operations.
In the absence of direct contact between Israel and Hamas, the Coordination and Liaison unit was discovered to be more necessary than ever, precisely in a military context.
At the end of last month, John Ging, the director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, thanked the head of the IDF liaison unit, Colonel Nir Press, for the administration's resourcefulness and efficiency in helping ease the crisis in Gaza. Ging's public comments, the rarer for being positive, came after two tempestuous weeks of street fighting, starting on June 13, that entailed terrifying the populace. Over the past week, Gaza has calmed down, as the Hamas military regime has become more established, and voices of opposition have been silenced.
Representatives of other international organizations also made the effort to thank the liaison unit officers, either by phone or in writing. In its own way, even Hamas acknowledges the importance of the liaison unit; it has repeatedly shelled the unit's offices from balconies and yards in Beit Hanun. Some liaison unit soldiers have been wounded in the attacks.
According to aid organizations, Gaza residents have collected basic food items such as oil, flour, rice and legumes to last about a month. The organizations have enough food in stock to last another few weeks. The food supply depends entirely on the border crossings, which are under the constant threat of Hamas and its partners.
Thwarting plans to bring in suicide bombing cells or explosives requires that access to the crossings be secured from the Palestinian side. The security guards, members of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas' Presidential Guard, were expelled from there three weeks ago. In order to overcome the difficulty, the liaison office has had to come up with some creative solutions, such as using a conveyor belt that generally transports bulk goods such as cement and gravel for the transportation of wheat, which is brought to flour mills in Gaza for processing.
Hamas operatives attack the crossings, but fearing the anger of the residents, refrain from attacking the provisions themselves. Gaza merchants export vegetables to Israel and import fruit, and they buy straw from kibbutzim and moshavim in the Negev with which to feed animals. The carnation seedlings imported from Israel are used to grow flowers in Gaza, which are then flown from Israel to Europe.
The border fence symbolizes separation, but not total disconnection. Israel and Gaza are like two parents who continue together to raise their children - the Palestinians - after their divorce. The illusion that it is possible to direct Gaza westward, toward Egypt, has dissipated. The only unlimited resource in Egypt is poverty. The Gazan economy is still linked to that of Israel. The sophisticated, expensive and empty Erez crossing, in which some $50 million had been invested, is meant to facilitate the passage of 20,000 people a day - but actually serves only 200 a day. As an employer of inspectors and security guards, the Erez crossing somewhat diminishes the unemployment of the youths and the single mothers in the southern towns and kibbutzim, in the hope that better and busier days will arrive.
The success of the IDF liaison unit can partly be measured by its influence on the planning of military operations. The existence of paths to allow for medical treatment and the transfer of supplies, the timing of breaks in the curfew, the defense of infrastructure - all these are undertaken today by the IDF Southern Command and Gaza Division, not as a constraint or a nuisance, but as part of the "necessary achievement," a measure of the success or failure of the operation.
Israel is not being charitable to the Gaza residents. It is being good to itself; the ethical and the realistic correspond. Behind Hamas, as behind Hezbollah, stands Iran, in a military, ideological and financial campaign/war. In the currency war, the rial against the shekel, leaving the Gazan playing field to Iran will lead to a lethal implementation of realpolitik. Damaging Gazan infrastructure, in accordance with the suggestion of hot-tempered Israelis, would be a gift to Hamas and to Iran.
As opposed to the day-to-day security threats, the big, long-term risk must be considered: If the Iranian regime is not replaced, Tehran will be here.
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