Alexander the Great’s army was so feared by the time he was marching from Syria to Egypt, that city after city surrendered to him without a fight.
One city, however, did fight: Gaza. The town that is tucked between Egypt and Israel was defeated with little difficulty, as its leader was tied to a horse and dragged through its streets. Alexander thus reminded Gaza that it is not a power of even just a country, but a threshold to another country: Egypt.
In later centuries Gaza seemed to have realized this, as it made good use of its location between empires and continents. For instance, in the days of Jesus it was the terminus of an international trade route that carrying spices, perfumes, and asphalt across the Nabatean kingdom from India via Africa to Greece.
Today’s Gaza derives its inspiration from the Gaza that chose war, as its fundamentalist leaders provoke neighbors, abuse its resources, lose allies, and lead the strip to economic ruin.
IN 2005, after Israel retreated unilaterally from the 365-square-km-strip, the Palestinian Authority won a chance to storm this Mediterranean coastline and make its 1.8 million inhabitants prosper. Tragically, the PA sat idly for two years until the Islamist Hamas staged a coup that took 160 lives, including a number of PA officials that were thrown to their deaths from Gaza’s rooftops.
Springboard for attacks on Israel
Hamas made no secret of its resolve to use the strip as a springboard for attacks on Israel, a strategy that resulted in repeated rocketing of Israeli towns and three mini-wars with the IDF between 2008 and 2014.
Hamas’s strategy of confrontation had to come at the expense of Gaza’s livelihood, because it diverted budgets from industrial development and civilian services to non-economic causes like manufacturing rockets and digging tunnels into Israel.
Worse, Gaza’s workforce lost access to Israeli employers, both within the strip, from which Israel retreated, and also within Israel, where Gazan workers are suspected as terrorists.
Faced with a Gazan leadership that refuses to recognize the Jewish state and also says openly it is seeking its destruction, Israel sought a way to keep the Gazan economy alive without compromising its own security.
Israel’s decision has been to help civilian goods enter the strip and at the same block the importation of arms. That is why the Israeli navy patrols Gaza’s coasts, while overland an average 175 trucks offload daily produce, food, medicines, fertilizers, appliances, and other goods that arrive from the Israeli of the Kerem Shalom border pass.
The strip’s other commercial gateway, in Rafah opposite Egypt, has been mostly closed since 2015, as Egypt accused Hamas of sheltering terrorists affiliated with Islamic State’s Sinai operation, which routinely attacks Egyptian troops and civilians.
Hamas loses allies
Hamas, then, has provoked Israel, Egypt, and the Palestinian Authority. Meanwhile, it has also lost a succession of strategic allies.
First, as the Syrian civil war erupted in 2011, Hamas gambled on Bashar Assad’s defeat, and openly sided with the fundamentalists that challenged his regime. Assad therefore expelled from Damascus Hamas’s representatives while his Iranian patron stopped its annual transfer of $200 million to Hamas. Iran’s payments were recently resumed, but the sums are now less than half their original size.
Two years later Hamas sustained another strategic blow, as Egypt’s Muslim Brothers were overthrown along with Hamas’s main diplomatic patron, President Mohammed Morsi who is no in jail.
Lastly, Hamas is right now losing its major financial bloodline, Qatar, as the princedom comes under a pan-Arab diplomatic siege. The sheikhdom is believed to have transferred Gaza an annual $100 million, besides a $350 million grant following Morsi’s overthrow in 2013.
It is against this backdrop of military provocation, economic neglect, and diplomatic breakdown that Gaza in recent months has been steadily losing its power and light.
GAZA’S USAGE of its resources for military purposes prevented it from properly investing in its infrastructure. Consequently, its sewage system is near collapse; its water system overuses a depleting aquifer, and underuses desalination; and its electricity comes from a lone power station that can only supply half the strip’s needs.
The rest of the power comes from Israel and Egypt, which supply respectively 35 and 15 percent of Gaza’s power. The Israeli supply is paid by the PA, which in turn is paid by Hamas. In recent months Hamas failed to pay the PA and in April the station ceased to generate power.
The strip’s power supply thus dropped from eight hours per day to four. Several weeks later the PA asked Israel to cut its power supplies. Israel reluctantly agreed, and Gaza’s power supply slid from four daily hours to three.
Israel wants the power supply’s restoration, but it says that reluctance to take sides in the intra-Palestinian rift does not mean it will distribute fuel for free, least of all to a sworn enemy that spends its money on building rockets and digging tunnels.
Fuel’s payment cannot be expected now from the embattled Qataris, who last January gave Hamas $12 million to keep the power station going, much the way the emirate transferred $31 million the previous summer when Hamas ran out of money for its employees’ salaries.
The ones in a position to pay are the Egyptians, though they will only do so at a price.
The price will be Hamas’s handing over of 17 suspected terrorists; increased Egyptian presence at Gaza’s border crossings; and the installation as a minister in Hamas’s government of Mohammed Dahlan, a former Palestinian minister, and personal rival of PA President Mahmoud Abbas.
It will take a while, but ultimately Gaza will return to be what it was for Alexander: Egypt’s threshold.