Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Resource Wars: Israel, Egypt and the Dim Prospects for Peace Over Gaza

The prospects for peace between Israel and Gaza were bad enough and have grown dimmer due to the 2014 war. Both sides are predictably trying claim victory already. Actually, neither have won. The difference is the balance of terror lies decisively in Israel's favour in this brutal pyschopathological struggle.

From Netanyahu's perspective, the strategy is about forcing Hamas to surrender by whatever means (no matter the civilian casualties ) so they agree to demilitarise. But to get to that point he was ready to use a clearly 'disproportionate' amount of military force instead of one other thing-diplomacy.

From his perspective Israel cannot get a sustainable peace without war. As in Orwell's novel 1984, 'war is peace'. Hamas has to pretend that all the civilian dead are glorious martyrs to their cause in a jihad in which all the deaths and massacres could bring about a moral victory over the oppressor.

Hamas would not agree to demilitarise and have demanded the blockade to end. However, Israel would not agree to as it part of their strategy for national security. There is evidence that the wrangle over Gaza is being made more protracted by the fate of the Gaza Marine gas reserves.

Israel fought this war with ferocity because it wanted to crush Hamas and eliminate it as a potential proxy force while Hizbollah had been drawn deeply into the Syrian conflict by 2013. Despite Netanyahu's claims, Iran's backing for Hamas had declined dramatically due to sectarian enmities coming to the fore.

With Iran distracted and the Egyptian authoritarian regime of Sisi having destroyed the Muslim Brotherhood in the 2013 coup, Netanyahu went for Hamas while the time was right. One aim is to secure Israel's southern flank from rocket attacks because this would set back setting up gas rigs.

As Forbes magazine reported in January 2014,
'The rigs required to lift the gas from the sea floor are a target that some commentators have referred to as a “sitting duck” for terrorists. The gas platforms are to be situated outside of Israeli territorial waters, but inside Israel’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), an area roughly twice the size of Israel itself'
One reason for the divided and vacillating response from the Western Powers was that major energy corporations have a stake in aiding Israel in tapping these reserves. Whether the US group Noble Energy or else Britain's BG Group in regards to Gaza Marine. 

That backing for Israel and Egypt in the Eastern Mediterranean, however, has been complicated by the fact that Britain and the US's other regional partners in the region, Turkey and Qatar, are backing Hamas as part of a strategy to check Israel's dominance of the offshore reserves.

Increasingly, Britain and France draw much of their import of liquefied natural gas from Qatar and have formed bilateral trade ties to the gas rich emirate. This accounts for the start of a shift away from the position of backing Israel to criticism of its conduct of this war as much as humanitarian principles.

The problem is that Israel is acting unilaterally over Gaza so as to be able to tap the reserves as quickly as possible as a vital 'existential' interest that would put it in such as position to guarantee both its independence and importance for the West against Qatar and Turkey's rival ambitions.

Israel is going to be intransigent on the demilitarisation of Gaza and maintaining the blockade as it is regarded as necessary to ensure the energy security both of it and Egypt which, under Morsi in 2012, cut off its gas supply as it faced, and still does, a fuel crisis and economic deterioration.

The prospect for peace is low as Egypt is confronted with collapse if it were not able to import energy from Israel as agreed in in June 2014. As Egypt is seen as a key partner in defeating a jihadist insurgency raging on the Sinai Peninsula, Israel regards destroying Hamas as part of that wider battle.

Israeli national security involves energy both as a nationalist goal as a Gift from God. So Hamas is regarded as one of the threats to the exploitation of their gas reserves ( even those in Israel's territorial waters ) through rocket attacks and sabotage just as Hizbollah could from the north.

Such reasons for the blockade of Gaza not being emphasised in the Western media very much at all. Without the gas the regional security nexus with Egypt would be under threat. Since the 1970s has depended on Egypt to maintain the security of the borders with Israel in Sinai.

Even worse, there is a jihadist insurgency in Sinai at present and pipelines from Egypt to Israel were targeted and blown up in the past . Making the need to exploit the gas more and more important. Compromise could be difficult as Israel fears Hamas being used by Qatar to disrupt its regional energy strategy.

So the ceasefire could well not lead to a durable peace. Israel is not going to trust Hamas 'perhaps ever' as Tony Blair sinisterly intimated at the outset of the conflict on July 15 . Blair is hopeless as UN Quartet's Special Envoy to the region and has sided too obviously with Egypt and Israel against Turkey and Qatar.

Blair's bias and Netanyahu's nationalism means Israel has no interest in offering a Hamas controlled Gaza anything that would affect its energy security or enable Qatar and Turkey in alliance to use Hamas as a bargaining chip in what are increasingly dangerous geopolitical struggles for control over the gas fields and energy routes.

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