Gaza Disengagement

The history and politics of the decision to disengage

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In June 2004, Israel set a new course in its approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict when the Israeli government approved Ariel Sharon’s plan for disengagement from Gaza. The plan was carried out in the summer of 2005, and had a lasting impact on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, as well as on the State of Israel as a whole. To understand the decision to disengage from Gaza and its implications, we must first understand how we arrived at that point.

How Israel Got Into Gaza

In June 1967, after less than 20 years of existence, Israel faced its greatest existential threat since its War of Independence. It was clear that Egypt, Jordan and Syria were planning a joint attack on Israel. The potential repercussions of defeat were enormous. The anticipated losses were feared so great that plans were made to convert public parks into cemeteries. The threat of imminent destruction, compounded by a dire economic climate, created a feeling of malaise that permeated Israeli society.

disengagement protestors

Facing over 465,000 mobilized troops, over 2,800 tanks, and 800 aircraft, Israel's only potential advantage was the element of surprise. On June 5th, 1967, Israel launched an early-morning preemptive attack against the Egyptian air force. By the end of the day, they had completely neutralized the Egyptian and Jordanian air forces, and destroyed half of the Syrian planes. Six days later the war was over.

Israel had achieved one of the greatest military victories of modern times. Not only had it defeated its enemies, but, for the first time, the Jewish State had substantial strategic geographic advantages. In the north, the Golan had been captured from the Syrians, enabling Israel to protect its most important water resource, the Kineret, and giving it the commanding heights of the Golan. In the east, Israel was able to return to East Jerusalem and other territories it had been forced to vacate in 1948, and gain enough territory in the West Bank to alleviate a previously vulnerable center that could easily lead to the country being cut in two. Finally, in the south, Israel was able to conquer the entire Sinai. This gave Israel a strategic depth it could never have imagined before. With conquest, however, came new populations, and Gaza, the most populated area of the Sinai, would also become the most troublesome.

The Israeli public rejoiced. Only six days earlier they had been facing their doom. Now, spectacularly, they found themselves in possession of the Temple Mount, Hebron, the Gush Etzion block, the Golan and the Sinai. Almost overnight, their country had doubled in size. This development would have great impact on two major movements--the Greater Israel movement (Revisionists in the tradition of Zev Jabotinsky) and the Religious Zionist movement---as impossible rhetoric became the reality on the ground.

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Noah M. Levine received a Master's Degree in International Affairs from Columbia University's School of International & Public Affairs. His focus was in Security Policy and the Middle East. Prior to this, Noah spent several years living and working in the Middle East.