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October 31, 2023

Don’t Let Refugees Be Used as a Weapon

If we want Europe to kick the habit of rewarding extortion, our leaders will have to sober up, too.

It’s been called the population weapon, and it’s an effective way to blackmail Europe.

The late Libyan dictator Muammar Gadhafi used it.

So has Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

And now the government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is threatening to do so, if the West continues to call for Egypt to accept refugees from Gaza.

A senior Egyptian official quoted by the Financial Times put it bluntly:

“You want us to take 1 million people? Well, I am going to send them to Europe. You care about human rights so much — well, you take them.”

Gadhafi was a notorious sponsor of terrorism.

But before the uprising that ended his life, the Libyan despot bribed and extorted his way back to a degree of respectability in the eyes of Europe’s political elite.

His oil wealth let him buy friends — and the population weapon was a reminder even to enemies that he could hurt them.

Gadhafi could topple an Italian government simply by letting refugees and economic migrants pass through his country. He controlled the immigration spigot.

Erdogan learned from him.

The Iraq War and the civil war in Syria displaced millions of people, whom Turkey was prepared to pass through to Europe — unless the European Union and NATO heeded Erdogan’s demands.

Now Egypt is ready to use the same leverage.

To many in the West, it seems puzzling that Palestinians don’t migrate to other Arab countries.

But those countries will not take them.

Egypt has as little desire to rule a discontented and dangerous Palestinian population as Israel does.

Yet the result of Gaza’s self-government has been the empowerment of Hamas, with the searing consequences that has inflicted upon Israel.

Even the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank does not want responsibility for Gaza and would hardly have the means to administer the territory if it wished to do so.

Egypt is the only nation other than Israel to share a border with Gaza.

However reluctant Cairo may be, it will have to accept refugees — and cooperate with Israel in establishing a firm peace after the war.

But President Sisi may think he can shirk this burdensome duty by frightening the governments of Europe into turning on Israel.

Would they like to trade places with Israel and see what it’s like to have a Gaza within their borders?

Sisi can make it happen.

The U.S. is less vulnerable to such extortion — but that comparative immunity only makes liberal opinion in our country all the more naive.

The hard left simply thinks of Israel as a settler colonial state that should not exist.

More centrist liberals don’t go that far, but they cannot bear to think about the conditions — in America and Europe, not just the Middle East — necessary for Israel’s safety.

Those conditions include a willingness on the part of Europe to say no to a million refugees, by compelling Egypt to say yes to them instead.

When European states do take a hard line on migration, the response from American liberals is to scream “fascism!”

Elite American opinion expects Europe to be accommodating, and since Europe cannot afford that, its leaders may find it easier to appease Egypt and undercut Israel.

This is a chain reaction, and we’re a part of it.

But that means we can help to stop it, too — by sending the signal to Europe that it has every right to keep displaced populations closest to their places and cultures of origin.

Geography and history, not racism, makes Egypt responsible for its neighbor.

If Egypt doesn’t want the costs that come with a tide of Palestinian refugees, it will have to devote everything it possibly can to assisting Israel’s eradication of Hamas and reconfiguration of Gaza.

There is a valuable precedent to be set here that will make Europe more secure in the future, the next time a Gadhafi or an Erdogan reaches for the population weapon.

And this refusal to submit to blackmail will ultimately lead to better humanitarian results as well, as refugees are kept closer to home and local powers are incentivized to keep their neighborhoods clean.

But ideology is a helluva drug, and if we want Europe to kick the habit of rewarding extortion, our leaders will have to sober up, too.


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