I’m going to have to dissent a bit from my friends here on Contentions as to the meaning of today’s drama on the Gaza-Egypt border. (I just returned from a wedding here in Jerusalem and have not had a chance to read all that much news, so my apologies for this being a very quick take.)
We westerners are accustomed to viewing chaos and violence — such as blowing up border fences — as bad things. But before reacting this way, think for a moment about the interplay between Israel, Egypt, and Gaza since Hamas took power in Gaza a little over half a year ago. What we have seen is a subtle and consistent attempt from the Egyptians not just to avoid having Gaza become their problem, but to ensure that the radical energies emanating from Gaza would always be sent in one direction: Israel.
This is why the Egyptians have been so complicit in allowing smuggling tunnels under the border fence, probably one of the reasons why they’ve recently become more friendly toward Iran (and by extension Iran’s nearby client, Hamas). When Israel asked Egypt to do a better job of policing the Sinai to prevent weapons smuggling, the Egyptians replied that they would like to do more, but cannot because the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt limits the number of soldiers that Egypt can station in the Sinai. In other words, Egypt simultaneously said to Israel: not only will we not help you suppress Hamas, but if you want us to even consider doing so, the price will be a renegotiation of our 30-year-old peace treaty to allow us a greater military presence on your border.
So Egypt has been trying to play a delicate game: keep Hamas in the game by allowing them to bring in weapons, cash, and terrorists, but not so conspicuously that it causes a serious American or Israeli backlash.
But today, Hamas just blew the border fence down. Suddenly, some of the pressure that has built up in Gaza over the past several months has been released, and it didn’t go toward Israel — it went into Egypt, and now the Egyptians are faced with a calamitous situation.
Egypt has been hoisted with its own petard, and it is really quite enjoyable to see from a strategic perspective. Hamas probably blew up the border fence with explosives that Egypt allowed it to smuggle into Gaza. Heh.