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Turn the Screws on Iran, but Ease Pressure on Hamas?

Behold, the world's schizophrenic policy towards two virtually equal, and related, situations.

by
P. David Hornik

Bio

December 27, 2010 - 12:00 am

On Tuesday morning a Qassam rocket fired from Gaza struck near a kindergarten in a kibbutz outside Ashkelon, the Israeli coastal city north of the Strip. A fourteen-year-old girl was injured and four other people were treated for shock. The attack was part of a recent escalation in Gaza terror that included ten mortars fired on Monday.

Although shelling from Gaza is down since Israel’s Operation Cast Lead almost two years ago, it has by no means stopped, with over 200 missiles, rockets, and mortars fired in 2010. The shelling and other terror activity comes from Hamas, which rules Gaza, and other terror groups that have roosted there including the al-Qaeda-linked Army of Islam.

Gaza, then, is comparable to Iran albeit on a much smaller scale: a belligerent polity run by Islamic extremists. Yet the world relates to the two polities very differently.

For instance, earlier former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, now envoy of the Middle East Quartet, decried what he called the “mistaken view … that if Gaza is isolated, somehow Hamas is weakened.” He called for “expanding not just humanitarian provisions to Gaza but also reconstruction, water, sanitation, and electricity capacity as well.”

His words abound with ironies. One is that Gaza is already awash in international assistance; for instance, in the wake of last May’s Gaza flotilla incident, President Obama pledged a $400-million package to the West Bank and Gaza. Israel too, after that incident, bowed to worldwide demands and almost totally lifted its “siege” of the Strip.

That “siege” had put limited economic pressure on the Hamas regime by preventing certain kinds of goods, particularly those like cement and steel that have military uses, from crossing into Gaza from Israel.

Meanwhile, various reports (here and here, for instance) have highlighted that, at least in some regards, Gaza is actually thriving, with well-stocked shelves and shiny shopping malls.

Also ironic is that Blair’s Britain, when under the German bombardment in World War II, did not react by calling for generous international aid to Germany.

But one doesn’t have to go into history to see the hypocrisy. Currently Iran — unlike Gaza, which mainly threatens Israel — is rightly understood to threaten not only Israel but Europe and the United States as well. And Europe — including Blair’s Britain — and the United States have not reacted by trying to boost Iran but by imposing sanctions. The aim, just as with Israel’s “siege” of Gaza, is to harm the regime and not the populace; but, again just as with Israel’s “siege” of Gaza, in such situations the populace, at least for the time being, can get harmed as well.

Indeed, the AP reported last week:

The Iranian government sent squads of riot police to man the major intersections of [Tehran] as sensitive cuts in energy and food subsidies came into effect. … The cuts come as the Iranian economy is suffering under four rounds of U.N. sanctions as well as those from individual countries over its controversial nuclear program.

Although the report goes on to say that “Iran had planned to slash subsidies before the latest sanctions took effect,” there is no doubt that the sanctions are making things all the harder. And in such situations, the distress of the populace is not just a by-product but part of the strategy, since internal discontent adds to the pressure on the regime and could even lead to its overthrow.

That clearly applies to Iran; could it apply to Gaza as well? In fact, Hamas’s popularity is reportedly declining as, like the mullahs in Tehran, it tries to impose Islamic strictures that at least part of the population does not want. Yet, unlike with the mullahs, the Western approach is not to stoke the flames of discontent but to make Hamas-run Gaza as pleasant and flourishing a place as possible — which, of course, enables Hamas to invest that much more resources and effort in its war on Israel.

And the final irony is that Hamas is an ally of Iran — now in possession of Iranian missiles that can hit Tel Aviv — and helping Hamas, even if indirectly, means promoting Iran’s foreign policy goals even as the West pressures Iran on the home front.

And while Iran’s West-threatening projectiles are yet to be fired, Gaza’s Iran-supplied projectiles have been hitting Israel all the time, especially these last few days. It’s just that the West can’t get excited about the latter.

P. David Hornik is a freelance writer and translator living in Beersheva and author of the book Choosing Life in Israel.
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