Why Didn’t the Blockade and Operations Against Hamas Work?

From NBC.

Over at Al Monitor, Shlomi Eldar has written an article discussing the background of the siege of Gaza in the aftermath of Hamas’s takeover of the Gaza Strip. According to Shlomi (and other analysts), the motivation for the imposition of the blockade was “Israel’s working assumption was that economic pressure on the Gaza Strip would cause unrest among its residents, forcing Hamas to relinquish authority when it would not be able to provide for their well-being.” The logic behind these types of policies (embargoes, blockades, sanctions, strategic bombing, etc.) often is that the addition of coercive force against the general population will cause the people to blame the ruling party for this action. The hope is then the citizens will overthrow their government or put pressure on the government to change their policy in a way that will be more suitable for nation/s imposing the coercive policies.

Multiple authors have written about the use of coercive policies. The economist Thomas Schelling in his book The Strategy of Conflict discussed coercive policies (called compellence in his book) and the conditions needed for those policies to be successful. But perhaps one of the most famous studies was carried out by Robert Pape in his book Bombing to Win. In his book (and several articles), Robert Pape examined several case studies where the targeted nation suffered through coercive policies such as air strikes and economic sanctions. Instead of making the population turn against their government, they will actually support their government more.

This is easily observable in the case of Gaza and Hamas. It’s no secret that Hamas is not popular in the Gaza strip. Perhaps this is most visible in the manifesto from youth groups with much of their anger directed at both Hamas and Israel. Before the current war, Hamas had been facing increasing levels of disapproval in Palestine, especially in Gaza. But when Israel starts to bomb the Gaza strip, the same people who normally do not care for Hamas; rally around them. When Israel attacks Hamas is perceived as fighting for the survival of the Palestinian people, fighting against the siege, fighting for the independence of the Palestinian people. This can be observed in opinion polls following the conflicts in Gaza.

Lastly, blockades and coercive policies give the targeted government an opportunity to shore up its control. During the time of sanctions on Iraq, Saddam Hussein was able to control the limited amount of humanitarian aid given to him to give it to his supporters and to punish his enemies. Although there isn’t any literature I know of discussing how Hamas keeps itself in power in Gaza, it is possible that Hamas’s use of tunnels to smuggle in goods (both military and civilian) gives the militant group a tool to keep itself in power. Due to the very limited amount of goods allowed into the strip, civilians need to smuggle basic goods like medicine and food through the tunnels. 

Unfortunately, Israel’s strategy of trying to defeat Hamas has caused a large amount of suffering for the inhabitants of the Gaza strip without Hamas actually being defeated. The loss of Morsi in Egypt as well as the tightening of the blockade has starved Hamas financially, however that has not diminished its abilities to strike Israel nor has it lost control of the Gaza strip. Israel’s constant bombardment of the area only strengthens the group. The use of coercive policies such of the blockade and aerial bombardment usually backfire.

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