This week marked the 17th anniversary of the Israel army's unilateral evacuation from Gaza in 2005, after a physical occupation lasting 38 years. Gaza was always a thorn in the side of the occupation state, prompting former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to say, "I wish I could wake up one day and find that Gaza has sunk into the sea."
It also forced Ariel Sharon, Prime Minister in 2005, to retreat from his categorical refusal to withdraw from Gaza and his commitment to Jewish settlements in the enclave. He withdrew his soldiers, evacuated thousands of settlers and destroyed all of their settlements in Gaza, unconditionally. Twenty-one settlements covering around 35 per cent of the Gaza Strip were destroyed as the troops and settlers pulled out.
The liberation of Gaza was a turning point in Palestinian history. It was the first time that the Palestinian people had used resistance to expel Israelis from Palestinian land occupied since the Nakba in 1948, without an agreement or political costs.
However, the occupation simply took another form, with a siege that controls Gaza's air, land and sea borders. Nevertheless, it has not settled down to a relatively comfortable but humiliating life. Instead, the people have opted for the path of resistance until the complete liberation of all of Palestine is achieved. Gaza was a symbol of steadfastness and defiance when the enemy took over the land, and became an icon of the resistance after pushing the enemy out.
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Israel acknowledges that the Gaza Strip is its southern front that can be ignited the quickest, and that it is the least stable. It knows that Gaza is a constant threat to the occupation. The Israeli security and intelligence services have to be on high alert at all times. How has this happened, despite the imposition of a comprehensive and ongoing siege?
A number of factors need to be considered. The victory of Hamas in the 2006 legislative election and the formation of a Palestinian government, for example, saw the rejection of the conditions imposed by the International Quartet for recognition of the Hamas-run Palestinian Authority. These conditions were official recognition of the occupation state of Israel; the rejection of resistance in all its forms; and acceptance of the Oslo Accords and international resolutions. This all paved the way for the development of the resistance movement in the Gaza Strip.
The PA leadership and the Fatah movement, both headed by Mahmoud Abbas, refused to accept the election result, despite formally recognising it, which led to security disorder and obstructed the work of the government formed by Hamas. A short, sharp armed confrontation between Fatah and Hamas security forces in 2007 ended with the Islamic Resistance Movement's complete control over the Gaza Strip.
The resultant security environment protected the resistance, and gave it legitimacy and cover for all of its branches, while allowing it to develop its military capabilities. At least thirteen resistance factions now have dozens of military sites, arms workshops and control and command rooms. The government security agencies provided them with support and protection, which saw resistance to the occupation replacing the doctrine of security coordination with Israel. It also contributed to limiting the role of Israeli collaborators and spies, drying up their sources and exposing Shin Bet plans; the Israeli security agency's cells in Gaza were dismantled.
Throughout this period, the military capabilities of the resistance groups have been developed, as have the rules of engagement with the enemy. The severing of military supply lines has been countered by the development of local weapons production. Innovative tactics have been adopted to develop missile systems, tunnels and drones, and to take the fight behind enemy lines by land and sea. Remarkable achievements have been made in defending the Palestinians against Israel's military offensives since 2006.
Among the most prominent of these was the response to so-called "Operation Protective Edge" in 2014, when the death of at least seventy Israeli soldiers sapped the collective will to fight. One of the most persistent Israeli objectives — to disarm and disable the resistance groups — has been dropped, because it has been unable to achieve it. The enemy has also responded, albeit partially, to demands for the easing of the siege imposed on Gaza, and has realised that the unified response to its attacks on Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque in May last year — the Sword of Jerusalem Battle — have change the rules of the game. Its flagrant attacks against national Palestinian sanctities, the issue of political prisoners, annexation and assassinations are all enough to cause the outbreak of a military confrontation with Gaza.
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The material, military and logistical support provided by the Islamic Republic of Iran and Lebanon's Hezbollah is the backbone for developing the resistance capabilities in Gaza and turning the enclave into a permanent threat to the enemy. This has been confirmed by the resistance leaders and the "axis of resistance", as well as evidence on the ground.
The determination, will and fighting spirit of the resistance, and the love of martyrdom and sacrifice for the cause, are among the important factors that are met by a weak desire to fight and sacrifice among Israelis, growing numbers of whom are abandoning military service. The Palestinian resistance leadership is a unique example of sacrifice; dozens of military and political leaders have been martyred, as have many family members.
There is also popular support for the resistance and its steadfastness, despite the siege, which has helped to counter the enemy's efforts to create internal conflict between the people of Palestine and their resistance factions. The popular base is a major strength of the resistance. In Israel, meanwhile, there is a fear and unwillingness to accept human losses.
These and other factors have contributed to the fact that the Gaza Strip remains a constant threat to the Zionist enemy, even as the weaknesses of Israel and its armed forces have grown. Gaza remains an inspirational example for the occupied West Bank and the other arenas of confrontation with the occupation state in the struggle to liberate Palestine and its people.
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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.