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Israel’s objectives for its wall on the Gaza border

December 15, 2015 at 12:05 pm

Since the end of the 2014 Israeli war on Gaza, the enclave’s borders have been witnessing mutual mobility by the Israeli army and Hamas fighters, with each sending the other messages to warn against the imposition of new realities on the ground. Such messages are represented by the digging of tunnels on one side, and continuous Israeli incursions on the other. Israel’s latest announcement about establishing a security wall is, therefore, raising questions about its security goals and military objectives.

Out of nowhere, Minister of Defence Moshe Ya’alon said that the Israeli army will begin building a security wall on the Gaza border to face the tunnels dug by Palestinians and stop their infiltration. Perhaps the decision came in response to calls made by settlement leaders for the border area to be equipped with the means of detecting and sending warnings when tunnels are being dug. They sent a letter to Ya’alon to put things in place to protect the lives of settlers from infiltration by Palestinian fighters from Gaza.

Even though the construction of the wall and excavations along the border have to be seen in the context of the tightening of the Israeli blockade of Gaza, and although Palestinians have the options available to face them, the international community is called upon to assume its responsibilities towards these Israeli violations. It is significant that the timing of the announcement about the border wall coincided with the outbreak of clashes between Palestinian demonstrators and the Israeli army as part of the intifada; Palestinians have been shot and killed by Israeli soldiers if they go anywhere near the border.

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There has been little total calm in Gaza since Israel’s summer offensive last year. Tension has often flared up but, so far, not into armed confrontation. Both Hamas and Israel seem keen to avoid that at the moment.

We do not know what kind of wall or fence that Israel is going to build. Will it be a barrier in the form of a deep trench alongside the existing fence? Or will it be similar to the Apartheid Wall built within the occupied West Bank? Whatever it is, the decision to build it means that Israel feels that it is no longer able to have its soldiers preoccupied with the security of the settlements close to the Gaza Strip, despite pressure from the settlers, who fear the possibility of the Palestinians digging tunnels under their homes.

The border wall may increase the crisis facing Hamas, represented by the tightening of the blockade by Israel, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority. The Egyptians have destroyed most of the “lifeline” tunnels under their border with Gaza, and have flooded the border zone with seawater.

Although the Palestinians don’t believe that the Israelis will try to block tunnels by building an underground wall, as the cost would be too great, they may imitate the Egyptians and dig a deep trench filled with water to deter the construction of tunnels. A third scenario would involve Israel’s construction of a wall along the border and the installation of more sophisticated surveillance systems.

Whatever the government in Tel Aviv opts for, the Palestinians have the means to deal with any military action on the Gaza border; their experience during Israel’s offensives in 2008, 2012 and 2014 suggests that the resistance has the capability to tackle anything that the Israelis choose to do.

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Hamas does not believe that any Israeli barrier on the Gaza border will bring security to the settlers, because the Apartheid Wall on the West Bank does not provide full protection for the illegal settlers there. Moreover, Israel apparently has serious security concerns about Gaza – either by a full-scale war against Hamas or cross-border operations targeting soldiers and settlers – so it is obviously in a race against time to seal the border as effectively as possible.

Translated from Al-Resalah, 10 December 2015

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.