Why do so many spy agencies take so much interest in Gaza?

The Gaza Strip is a part of Palestine with more than two million Palestinians living in around 365 square kilometres. It has been occupied by Israel since 1967, which has imposed a near-total 13-year land, air and sea blockade. It is regarded as one of the most densely populated areas on earth.

The coastal enclave has been subject to many Israeli military offensives, with three major attacks during the past decade alone. It has no natural resources and “less than four per cent of fresh water is drinkable and the surrounding sea is polluted by sewage.” Tragic humanitarian statistics — unemployment at 52 per cent; poverty 53 per cent; water pollution 95 per cent; and daily power outage 75 per cent — convey a bleak picture. A United Nations report warned in 2018 that it could soon become unfit for humans to live in by 2020.

However, Gaza has a presence in many corridors of power around the world, in both the East and the West. Last week, a security source in Gaza told me that they had so far discovered agents for 25 regional and international intelligence agencies operating in the territory.

Furthermore, every official or partisan Israeli election list has the issue of Gaza at the top of the agenda in their current campaigns. What are they promising to do with the Gaza Strip?

According to Ron Ben-Yishai, the military correspondent of Yedioth Ahronoth, for example, the Likud Party is planning a large-scale military ground operation in Gaza to deter the Palestinians’ “military power”, after which, he claimed, Israel will call for the world to disarm the security forces there and reconstruct the infrastructure and economy. The Blue and White party, said Ben-Yishai, is promising potential voters that it will do more or less the same thing as Likud.

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The veteran journalist pointed out that the head of Israel’s Jewish Home party, Avigdor Lieberman, is promising its voters to carry out a similarly “strong” military operation in Gaza to “completely” remove its government before rebuilding the enclave “from zero”. Again, the intention is to have a disarmed population on Israel’s doorstep. The Yamina alliance led by the former Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, meanwhile, is promising to carry out a massive air strike in Gaza and carry out assassinations (“targeted killings”) of Palestinian leaders.

It is no secret that Egypt is a major player in the situation in Gaza. It plays a role in the Israeli and internationally-backed blockade, and has a special unit in almost every security agency tasked with dealing with the Gaza Strip. In practice, Egypt, is the only state beside Israel which has a land border with the Gaza Strip, but regards it as a security issue and is dealing with it as such. As far as the Palestinians can see, though, since the time of ousted President Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s deep state gives priority to Israel’s interests in Cairo’s relationship with Gaza.

End Gaza Siege! – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

The UAE has imposed severe restrictions on Gaza since the victory of the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, in the 2006 elections. Hamas has been the de facto government in Gaza ever since. The government in Abu Dhabi has since deported or asked hundreds of Palestinians from Gaza to leave the Emirates, and has been running active intelligence agencies in the Gaza Strip with the help of Palestinian MP Mohammed Dahlan who lives in the UAE with his family.

READ: Why do people emigrate from the Gaza Strip? 

During the 2014 Israeli military offensive against Gaza, the security services discovered that an ostensibly medical aid convoy which entered the territory included intelligence staff instead of doctors and medical staff. To avoid clashes with the UAE, the Gaza security officials immediately deported the UAE nationals.

Jordan also has a hidden agenda in Gaza. A security source told me that a Jordanian MP who visited the territory during the 2014 Israeli offensive was discovered collecting and reporting intelligence on behalf of a certain country. He was immediately deported with the threat that he would be exposed to the media if he did not leave his hotel in the enclave at once.

Other known agents active in Gaza include those working on behalf of Saudi Arabia, Western powers, the US and Russia. Prior to 2008/9, an American citizen in her 20s entered Gaza posing as a journalist and claimed to me that she was a CIA agent. Israel, of course, has many Palestinian collaborators in the territory.

Why are the countries of the world paying so much attention to the sliver of land known as the Gaza Strip? Could it be because Gaza is the only place in the whole Arab world which is being ruled by the people who were chosen by democratic elections declared to be free and fair by international monitoring bodies, including the NGO run by former US President Jimmy Carter? Or is it because the Gaza Strip is a “superpower” that the whole world is afraid of? May be the latter is true precisely because of that electoral accountability.