One project that’s been undertaken by the IDF in Gaza hasn’t received as much media attention as the larger military conflict, at least until now. Starting back in November, construction crews began clearing a one-kilometer-wide band of land along the border of the Gaza Strip. Bulldozers and backhoes cleared buildings, roadways, and agricultural areas. Hamas terror tunnels were flattened and filled in. The buffer zone is being described as a “no man’s land.” But Israel is being opposed in these efforts on multiple fronts, including by the United States. Antony Blinken was recently trotted out again to criticize Israel’s construction efforts, though his reason for doing so doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. (Wall Street Journal, subscription required)
Beginning last November, an Israeli soldier and members of his reserve unit worked day after day in a northern section of the Gaza Strip to create a wasteland.
Their orders were to clear a 1-kilometer-wide area along the border, the soldier said, as part of an Israeli plan to construct a security zone just inside Gaza—to which Palestinians would be barred entry.
With bulldozers and other heavy equipment, they leveled greenhouses and other structures, filled Hamas militants’ tunnel shafts and plowed under farm fields.
“Everything has been flattened,” the soldier said. “It was mostly agriculture. Now it’s a military zone, a complete no man’s land.”
Blinken is saying that creating a buffer zone around Gaze might “deepen Palestinian fears that Israel intends to occupy all or part of the crowded enclave.” He also suggests that Arab nations might be less likely to contribute to any post-war reconstruction efforts if the border area is cleared. But that simply doesn’t make any sense. A buffer zone isn’t a path for Israel to “invade” Gaza again. It’s a safe space to prevent another sneak attack into Israeli border villages. As for communal rebuilding efforts, that is simply one less kilometer that will need to be rebuilt.
On October 7, Hamas came pouring over the border in force using wire cutters, ropes, tunnels, and even paragliders. They had immediate access to the kibbutzim along the border where they began unleashing the horrors we learned of afterward. Establishing a one-kilometer clear field of fire and collapsing all of the tunnels will make it vastly more difficult for (and hopefully less likely that) Hamas to try it again. That’s what the entire war is about. How is it that the Biden administration keeps managing to lose track of this reality?
Blinken went on to say, “We’ve been very clear about our opposition to the forced displacement of people.” He also warned against impacting the “territorial integrity” of Gaza. That much may be true, but how many people are we talking about? It’s a narrow band of land and they’ve already admitted that most of it is farmland. If the Gazans want to blame someone for being “displaced,” they should have a word with their elected leaders in Hamas who made the buffer zone necessary in the first place.
Fortunately, Blinken wasn’t trying to draw a bright red line in the sand over this. He really doesn’t have that option to begin with because Israel is under no obligation to take orders from us. He said that the United States might be able to consider a buffer zone as a “temporary” measure while the fighting continues. Even Netanyahu has suggested that it could be temporary, but he has offered no timeline of when it might not be required anymore.
One big question going forward will deal with the fate of anyone who decides to “go” into the “no-go zone.” If an armed group attempts to rush across toward the fences, the result should be predictable, immediate, and deadly. But what if a bunch of unarmed “protesters” begin marching across? In theory, since they will have received fair warning, the IDF should be able to just gun them down as well. But if that happens, the outraged screams of protest will start again and spread from Gaza City to the campus of Harvard. Netanyahu shouldn’t let that stop him, but he is no doubt concerned about maintaining his alliance with the United States, at least until he (hopefully) gets a better, more reliable partner in the White House.