Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Hamas's lucrative tunnels

Israel put the Gaza Strip under siege a year ago when Hamas took power in a coup, but the siege looks to have some pretty counterproductive unintended consequences: Hamas has been heavily taxing the tunnels which are used to smuggle consumer goods ands over from Egypt, and has been operating tunnels itself to maintain its supply of weapons:

Hamas imposes stiff taxes on the tons of contraband that flow beneath the border each night, collecting revenue from the tunnels to fill its own coffers, according to those involved in the trade and international observers. Hamas also gets to decide who receives scarce supplies, allowing it to consolidate its authority. All the while, the group has used its control to commandeer tunnels of its own, ensuring a steady supply of weapons to use in its attacks against Israel.

Israel's rationale is pretty standard: they're hoping that the people will turn on Hamas. And they are – less than 40% support Hamas's leader Ismail Haniyeh, compared with 56% for Fatah's Mahmoud Abbas. But, considering Gaza isn't a democracy, this turn in public opinion isn't enough to change the government, or its stance.

The Israelis come off as hapless, arguing so vigorously for control on the arms coming into Gaza (it was a condition of the maybe truce), while utterly ignoring the economic power that the blockade brings to Hamas. The organization has found the tunnels to be an effective way of collecting taxes, and it has the deleterious effect of severing the connection between taxation and consent to govern. Though they're "well aware of the massive scale of the smuggling and that Hamas benefits from it," the Israelis don't seem terribly concerned:

"The best thing from our point of view is that there would be no smuggling of ammunition. We don't care about the other things," said Shlomo Dror, spokesman for Israel's Defense Ministry.

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