Israel must tell the world about Gaza security challenges

The experience of the last two cease-fires in Gaza has brought to the surface a new parameter that it is worthwhile for Israel to pay attention to, namely the direct UN intervention for the securing of these cease-fire deals. So far, such deals were closed with the intervention of Egypt. This time, apart from the Egyptians, the UN special envoy to the Middle East, Nickolay Mladenov, also undertook a substantial role by meeting with Hamas officials in Gaza.

This active UN intervention signals a transition from a pure bilateral state mediation model to a multilateral, international one involving the major organization entrusted for the preservation of global peace. The opportunities that lie for Israel demonstrated in the active interest the UN – and by extension the international community – in playing a constructive role to the return of peace for the southern Israel residents should not go unnoticed for two reasons.

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The first is that simply it is in Israel’s interests to have available more cease-fire brokers other than Egypt. The latter is a trusted partner and the two states also currently enjoy a very good cooperation in security matters. Yet, the Arab Spring as well as the Israel-Turkey relations precedent or that of the relations between Israel and Iran before and after the Islamic Revolution, demonstrate that in the Middle East, nothing can be taken for granted. Along these lines, it is always good for Israel to know that it can sustain the relevant channels in order to turn to the UN if needed, as a reliable mediator.

The second reason the UN recent mediation cannot pass unnoticed is that despite a history of fractious relations between Israel and the organization, the mediation initiative sends the message that Israel can rely on the organization and on the international community at large for support. Instead of an unequivocal condemnation of any Israeli operations, the UN mediation initiative denotes the cognizance that both sides may have committed wrongs, and the important issue is not just to denounce Israel but to find a common modus vivendi.

THE ACKNOWLEDGMENT that also the Palestinian actions may merit condemnation rather than approval is important, not so much for the rocket attacks which have been already widely condemned by the international community, but for the new kind of terrorism emanating from Gaza that has been recorded in the last few months, namely the kite and balloon incendiary attacks.

So far, this kind of terrorism has been underestimated due to the fact that no physical casualties have been caused. Yet, the psychological harm incurred to the Israeli citizens living in the communities around Gaza is immense. Furthermore, a big ecological destruction has been caused to whole areas, including farmland being burned. The fact that the UN intervenes on a high-profile level to extinguish the flames of the latest violent round can be a perfect opportunity for the Israeli diplomacy to also bring before the international community, on an equally high level, the security challenges currently stemming from Gaza and which prompt each time an Israeli response.

Two concrete initiatives could be undertaken. The first would be for Israel to file an official complaint with the UN Security Council on Hamas’s latest attacks, including these involving balloons and kites. The second would be to resort to the International Criminal Court and ask the prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, to include in her preliminary examination on possible crimes committed by either Israel or the Palestinians, as far as Gaza-related activities are concerned, also the kite and balloon terrorism. After all, the widespread and systematic destruction of the natural environment is a crime that falls in the court’s jurisdiction.

The assumption behind these initiatives is not that Hamas will immediately cease its attacks as a result. Nevertheless, such initiatives can arouse cognizance of the problem among the international community, and certain states can exert pressure upon Hamas to bring such attacks to a halt, given that Gaza is considered legally to be one unit with the West Bank, and the Palestinian Authority signed and ratified in 2015 as the State of Palestine, the Third Protocol of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, prohibiting recourse to incendiary weapons.

Yet, even if this diplomatic and legal turn to the international community will not be able to avert a future military operation, still, Israel will have gained from such a legal and diplomatic expedition the fact that it will have exposed before the international community the gravity of the security challenges stemming from the Strip. If a military operation follows, Israel will be challenged to address then its causes. Yet, by that time, it will be too late for the country to mitigate any negative consequences on a foreign policy and public opinion level. The security challenges stemming from Gaza have to be highlighted starting now.

The writer is currently at King’s College London Dickson Poon School of Law and formerly served in the Knesset Legal Department.