I endorse Jonathan Tobin’s points on the need to prevent arms smuggling into Gaza, and would like to add another one. Americans, situated on the other side of the globe, have rarely considered it, but in light of the growing instability in the Middle East, it’s time we did.
Israel’s interdiction of arms shipments to terrorists is not just a boon to Israel. It’s a boon to regional stability. Gaza is not the only destination for smuggled arms; Lebanon is the other principal one. When the IDF intercepted M/V Francop in November 2009, the arms disguised as commercial cargo were bound for Beirut.
Israel cannot intercept arms shipments on every axis — e.g., at the Syrian border with Lebanon — but denying particular arms shipments to terrorists is not necessarily the most important effect of the Israeli policy. That effect is, rather, the imposition of boundaries on the scope and character of the instability created by Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran.
Without Israel’s enforcement of those effective boundaries, the impact of the terror regimes in Gaza and southern Lebanon would be considerably greater on Egypt and Jordan, at a minimum. If an Iranian-sponsored arms pipeline through Sudan to Gaza had been allowed to prosper, it would have further destabilized and polarized that already war-torn nation. Saudi Arabia, opposing Iran’s busy career on two sides of Israel, would consider it even more urgent to arm and cultivate Sunni Arab factions, hoping to organize Egypt and Jordan against the Iran-Syria coalition.
Israeli enforcement of the Gaza blockade, and Jerusalem’s policy of interdicting arms shipments to Hezbollah, are some of the key measures preventing Iran from consolidating advantage in Gaza and Lebanon. They also serve to discourage the widening of the terrorists’ operating theater and logistics range. That range can only be widened into the territory of neighboring nations, forcing those nations into overt policy choices — choices about whom to side with and what armed efforts to support or actively oppose — that they can address today with ambivalence.
It’s a good mental exercise to imagine the state of regional stability if there were no arms blockade of Gaza and no Israeli vigilance over southern Lebanon. Only Iran and the terrorists would derive advantage from the proliferation of arms and the potential for chaos. Certainly the Gazan and Lebanese civilians would not. And no regional nation would be immune to the reverberations outward from the Levant.