Wednesday, March 24, 2004
Amir Taheri thinks there's a deal with Egypt to take over Gaza after an Israeli withdrawal, and the assassination of Yassin was part of the quid pro quo: Israel has to degrade or destroy Hamas before Egypt is willing to take over.
If his sources are telling him the truth, that's very good news. But if this is wishful thinking, that's bad news.
If Sharon really has a deal with Egypt, that's great. Egypt has not been especially constructive in dealing with the Palestinians. Mubarak encouraged Arafat not to sign an agreement at Taba, and Egypt has done little to police the arms traffic through tunnels from Sinai to Gaza. And, of course, Egypt has historically refused to consider a reoccupation of Gaza. (By contrast, Egypt has been helpful in working with the Americans on our own terror war.) Egypt has expressed increasing levels of concern about the level of violence and anarchy in the territories, because they are worried about that violence spilling over into Egypt. All this is consistent with traditional Egyptian foreign policy: keep America friendly, keep Israel tied down, and avoid the outbreak of regional war. If Egypt has come to realize that it needs to play a more constructive role, and that the Palestinian intifadeh is no longer a good way to restrain Israel, that would be a great development.
'Cause here's my worry about both the Yassin assassination and the Gaza pullout plan: someone has to run the place. If Sharon is beating a "fighting retreat" and thinks this will deter future attacks after withdrawal, he's kidding himself. The Palestinians have taken enormous punishment. If Israel retreats while shooting, the Palestinians will - correctly - deduce that the Israelis couldn't take the heat and got out of the kitchen. So they'll press on.
Someone has to run Gaza. Sharon has figured out that Israel can't. Most people have figured out that purported moderates like Dahlan can't, and that Arafat won't; Arafat benefits from anarchy, and has no interest in actually running a Palestinian state. Hamas can, but they'd run it as a terror state devoted to the murder of Jews and the destruction of Israel. That's an unacceptable outcome. Who does that leave? Either an international force, or Egypt. An international force would be sitting ducks; they wouldn't use significant force to repress the terrorists, and they'd prevent Israeli retaliation. That's a non-starter. Egypt, on the other hand, is a reasonable option - if they are willing to move in.
When we hit Afghanistan after 9-11, we aimed to kill Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar along with the rest of the Taliban/al-Qaeda leadership, and to topple the regime. But we also built up a new government centered on Hamid Karzai, we worked out deals with the various warlords, and we formed a strategic alliance with neighboring Pakistan and with the central Asian republics, particularly Uzbekistan. Is it working perfectly? No, but it's a strategy for victory. If all Sharon is doing is hitting back, scaring the leadership, beating a fighting retreat - that's not good enough. He needs a strategy for victory, and that means a strategy for figuring out who is going to run Gaza and how, because as long as Gaza is a seething cauldron of terrorist gangs - even if they are rival gangs fighting each other as well as Israel - then victory has not been achieved.
So my fear is that Taheri's source is blowing smoke. That Sharon doesn't have an Egyptian deal in hand, but intends to make them an offer they can't refuse: agree to police Gaza or we'll leave a seething cauldron of terrorist gangs on your doorstep. And I never like "the worser the better" as a strategy.
The best evidence that Taheri has the straight dope, of course, is that the Bush Administration has been so restrained in its criticism. That suggests they know something's up. Let's hope something is.