Over the past few weeks of escalated violence between Israel and Hamas, several ceasefire plans emerged in an effort to end the hostilities. Hamas, however, has made the reopening of the Rafah border crossing a high priority for any ceasefire arrangement.
Last week, a 5-hour humanitarian ceasefire between Israel and Hamas was agreed upon, during which Hamas fired mortars into Israel. Hamas's unwillingness to stop sending rockets into Israel, even for such a short period of time, is a clear sign that it is not interested in providing needed lifelines to Palestinian civilians.
So why is the reopening of the Rafah border crossing in the south a top priority for Hamas ceasefire talks?
Hamas, founded as the Palestinian chapter of the Muslim Brotherhood, is a terrorist group whose goal is to destroy Israel and kill Jews. Hamas utilized tunnels in and around the city of Rafah to smuggle fuel, weapons, equipment, and information between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. While Egypt was under the rule of President Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood regime, smuggling operated without much interference. Control of the tunnel systems helped bring Hamas into power in Gaza and made their leadership very wealthy.
Unfortunately for Hamas, Mr. Morsi was removed from office by the Egyptian military following mass protests and demands from the Egyptian people. Egyptian prosecutors have indicted Mr. Morsi on numerous charges, among them espionage with foreign militant groups, including Hamas. Following the coup d'état in the summer of 2013, the Egyptian army destroyed countless smuggling tunnels between Egypt and Gaza and severely weakened Hamas's control in the region.
Making the Rafah crossing an official border crossing would require Egypt's recognition of Hamas as the legitimate sovereign government of Gaza. After purging their own government of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egyptian officials do not want the crossing controlled by Hamas, which will only serve to bring Brotherhood infiltrators into the region and destabilize the Sinai Peninsula. However, Egypt has stated that it would be willing to open the crossing on the condition that Palestinian Authority forces under Mahmoud Abbas maintain control.
Additionally, a Hamas controlled crossing will set up regional disputes between Egypt and its regional rival (and Hamas ally), Iran. Over the past few years, Iran has sought to strengthen its ties with Hamas; this relationship provides Hamas with Iranian weapons and technology. In March, Israel captured an Iranian ship carrying rockets to Gaza.
Reopening the crossing will revitalize the smuggling in the area that helped bring Hamas into power in the first place. Old tunnels will be restored to working condition and new tunnels will be erected. Moreover, opening the Rafah crossing will only serve to empower Hamas and win favor with Iran, which has been seeking to gain a stronger foothold in the region.
The U.S. Government has recently announced its intent to provide $47 million in aid to displaced Palestinians, and despite being under constant attack, Israel continues to provide humanitarian assistance to the Gaza Strip. Israel brings Palestinian wounded to Israeli field hospitals for treatment as Hamas uses ambulances to transport their terrorists. Hamas continues to prove that they are not interested in helping the Palestinians better their lives. Hamas has no interest in anything other than fulfilling their goal of destroying Israel, which they will happily pursue on the backs of dead Palestinians.
Operation Protective Edge is now in full swing and Israeli officials have vowed to "eradicate Hamas." To that end, it is imperative that Israel continues its offensive in order to wipeout what many consider a weakened Hamas.
If Israel is serious about eradicating Hamas then it is imperative that it reject any ceasefire proposal that calls for the Rafah crossing to be reopened. It will not improve the condition of Palestinians living in Gaza; it will only serve to strengthen a weakened Hamas.
Alex VanNess is the Manager of Public Information for the Center for Security Policy and was formerly a congressional aide.