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Why some in Israel say the Gaza blockade has failed

Three years after Israel imposed the Gaza blockade to weaken Hamas, some Israeli analysts say it has failed. But Israel sees few other feasible options for containment.

By Correspondent / May 14, 2010

A protester holds a Palestinian flag during a demonstration against the Gaza blockade near Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, Monday.

Hatem Moussa/AP

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Tel Aviv

Both Hamas and Israel chalked up victories this week. In Damascus, the Islamic militants got a rare international embrace from Russia President Dmitry Medvedev. In Washington, the Jewish state got about $280 million for weapon system to intercept rockets from Gaza.

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But three years after Israel imposed a blockade on Gaza to weaken the Islamist movement, the two sides are locked in a stalemate – looking not to final victory, but settling instead into a state of mutual deterrence. That has raised fresh debate in Israel among those who say the siege has failed to bring down the Islamist militants, and those who say it's an essential if unappealing tool to contain a group some fear could act as a proxy for Iran in a broader regional war.

"The strategies that Israel adopted to deal with Gaza since June 2007 when Hamas took over have failed,'' says Yossi Alpher, a former adviser to Prime Minister Ehud Barak and a coeditor of the Israeli-Palestinian opinion forum Bittlerlemons.org.

He acknowledges that the near-hermetic seal on commercial trade has brought economic upheaval, but says it hasn't weakened Hamas's hold on power or prompted it to be more open to compromise. Instead, he says, it has undercut a potential counterweight to Hamas: Gaza businesses and professionals.

Special report, video: What Gaza looks like through four Gazans' eyes

"Hamas hasn't moderated," says Mr. Alpher. "[The blockade] has impoverished the middle class, which used to trade with us [Israel], and it has empowered Hamas and the tunnel diggers."

But the view that the blockade – jointly enforced by Egypt, which has cracked down recently on the smuggling tunnels along its shared border with Gaza – is boomeranging isn't shared by Israel's government, says Uzi Dayan, an ex-general and a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party. There is an acknowledgment, however, among Israelis that the options before them are imperfect and unappealing.

"The most common thing I hear is that there are no good options so far as Gaza is concerned, only varying shades of bad ones," says one Western diplomat who speaks frequently with Israel's security community.

IN PICTURES: Palestinian smugglers on the Egypt Gaza border

More radical measures could threaten current calm

Israel has been hewing to a middle ground between two more radical solutions it is loath to embrace.

Regime change in Gaza runs the risk of Israeli casualties and a resumption of Israeli responsibility for administering the impoverished coastal strip of 1.5 million Palestinians. Engaging Hamas politically before it accepts Israel's right to exist and recognizes past peace agreements would be seen as handing a political and strategic victory to the Islamist movement, which Israel considers a terrorist group. It would also undermine the Western-backed Palestinian Authority in Ramallah.

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