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Palestinians wait for a tradesman to fix their old Primus stoves that burn diesel fuel in Gaza.
Palestinians wait for a tradesman to fix their old Primus stoves that burn diesel fuel in Gaza.

Retaking Gaza would cost Israel dear

Defence report highlights multi-million-dollar daily price of reoccupation and strengthens the hands of those advocating continued calm.

RAMALLAH // The cost to Israel of reoccupying Gaza would be US$4.24 million (Dh15.5m) a day, the Israeli army has calculated. The number has come as part of a general plan drawn up a year ago by the military to reoccupy Gaza and was reported yesterday by Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper. The figure covers only expenses related to maintaining a large civilian population under army control and does not include the cost of deploying forces in the Gaza Strip. The total cost would hence be much larger and provides a strong disincentive for any Israeli government to take on a major military operation in the Gaza Strip. Tension in and around Gaza has eased in recent days after nearly three weeks of hostilities that saw more than a dozen Palestinians killed. On Sunday, Hamas said it had agreed with other Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip to end the rocket fire at Israeli targets that came in response to an Israeli army incursion into Gaza on Nov 4. Yesterday, Israel allowed a shipment of humanitarian goods to enter Gaza, only the second such shipment in the past three weeks. Gaza has suffered rolling blackouts as a result of a lack of fuel to the impoverished strip's only power station, and journalists have been barred access to Gaza since the beginning of this recent round of hostilities. The tensions had caused many to question whether the ceasefire agreed between Palestinian factions and Israel in June was about to unravel. Both Israeli and Hamas officials had said they were committed to the truce. The publication of the cost of a major operation in Gaza would seem to strengthen the hand of those in Israel advocating continued calm, understood to include both Ehud Barak, the Israeli defence minister, and Gabi Ashkenazi, the chief of staff, even if the army also considers that it would be able to reoccupy the Gaza Strip should it be ordered to do so. "The report shows that to reoccupy Gaza will be very expensive," said Yossi Alpher, an Israeli analyst. "If you are thinking of reoccupying Gaza, this is a particularly bad sign, because the government doesn't have the money to do it in this global financial climate." Hamas too would seem to be interested in continued calm. The internal Palestinian dialogue still awaits resolution, while a new US administration in January and the Israeli elections in early February potentially offer changes to the political climate. "The Palestinian factions and Israel are both interested in maintaining the ceasefire," said Ghazi Hamad, a Hamas official. "And I believe Egypt is also working hard to mediate continued calm." The June ceasefire, however, expires on Dec 10, and in the current climate it is not clear if either Israel or Hamas can agree to officially extend the truce beyond that date. Israeli politicians will be loathe to be seen as offering Hamas any concessions in the run-up to general elections, while Hamas will want an Israeli guarantee that the crossings into Gaza will be open for more than humanitarian goods. The Gazan economy has stagnated as a result of the Israeli closures, with an estimated 90 per cent of industry having shut down. While smuggling tunnels under the border to Egypt has seen both essential and luxury goods reach Gaza, they offer no viable alternative. "I don't see how Hamas can formally extend the ceasefire and save face," Mr Alpher said. "And I wouldn't expect Barak to change his policy on crossings." Mr Alpher said he suspected the ceasefire would be extended. Moreover, he said negotiations over Gilad Shalit, a captured Israeli soldier held in Gaza, and Palestinian-Palestinian talks and Egyptian pressure could all play a role in mitigating the circumstances. Mr Hamad also said the ceasefire would be extended, though he said the opening of crossings into Gaza would be crucial to affect what he described as a political and military "stalemate". Nor would he discount the possibility of a major Israeli military operation, though he said Israel would pay a much higher price than that projected in the Israeli army's calculations. "I don't exclude the possibility that Israel is planning a major operation in Gaza," Mr Hamad said. "But I think politically the calculation in Israel is that the cost is simply too large. The military factions in Gaza have more experience and better logistics and I don't think the money is the only thing holding Israel back." okarmi@thenational.ae

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