Al-Ahram Weekly Online   18 - 24 October 2012
Issue No. 1119
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Elections and escalation

Israeli assassinations in Gaza continue as Netanyahu gears up for elections, reports Saleh Al-Naami

Click to view caption
A Palestinian woman mourns the death of a PFLP resistance fighter who was killed during an Israeli air raid on Khan Younis early Sunday

Anyone who drove along Salaheddin main street connecting North and South Gaza Strip this week had to be very patient after making several stops to allow ambulances to ferry the dead and injured quickly. They were injured during assassination operations by the Israeli occupation army across the Gaza Strip. This latest escalation primarily targeted leaders and members of Salafist jihad groups, which Israel accuses of being behind rocket attacks against Jewish settlements close to the Gaza Strip, as well as firing incidents and armed ambushes during the past three months on the border between Egypt and Israel.

The occupation army killed Hisham Al-Saidni, 53, the top Salafi jihadist leader in the Gaza Strip. Unmanned surveillance planes launched a rocket on Saturday evening at Al-Saidni as he rode his motorcycle with another member of his group, while they drove on Masoud Street in the town of Jabalya in the north of the Gaza Strip.

The scene of the assassination was horrifying; the blast severed the heads of Al-Saidni and his comrade and their body parts covered the area.

Hours after this assassination, Israeli jets killed another three activists affiliated to Salafi jihadists. The occupation justified the operation by claiming that the three dead men were either responsible for operations against Israel in the past or were plotting new ones.

To support these claims Israeli military sources alleged that the attacks were going to be in Sinai, in an attempt to ensure that Egypt and Arab states accept the assassinations. Israel has in the past justified many assassinations of Hamas and Islamic jihad members under the same pretext.

Al-Saidni was detained for two years in a Gaza prison after he was arrested during armed confrontation between Salafist jihadists and security forces in Rafah in 2010.

Dozens of civilian bystanders were injured during the assassination attacks and Israel targeted several other Palestinian groups. Israeli jet fighters bombarded sites of Ezzeldin Al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, using F-15 that dropped one-ton bombs on these targets.

The Palestinian Health Ministry said that by inspecting the corpses and the injured it is evident that Israel used banned weapons in the assassinations. The ministry accused the occupation of using "incendiary and non-conventional" weapons in the assassinations, according to a statement. "The occupation army insists on converting the Gaza Strip into an open field for its military experiments using lethal weapons that are banned by all international conventions and treaties," added the statement.

The ministry also condemned what it described as "use of excessive force" by the Israeli occupation against unarmed civilians in the Gaza Strip, as well as deliberate targeting of populated areas "in a categorical sequence of terrorist actions, which proves the occupation's premeditated intention to maximise the number of dead and injured among unarmed civilians."

This escalation occurred after Hamas once again began coordinating military operations with other Palestinian factions against the occupation, especially Islamic Jihad. Al-Qassam Brigades and Al-Quds Brigades -- the military wing of Islamic Jihad -- last week launched dozens of rockets at occupation forces along the border between Gaza and Israel in response to the assassination of a leader of Salafist Jihad last week which injured many civilians.

Al-Qassam Brigades said it will continue coordinating against the occupation with other resistance factions. Abu Obeida, spokesman for Hamas's military wing, said his group "will boost joint resistance operations with other factions until they form a 'joint operations room' in each faction". He added that his brigades carried out many operations in cooperation with other factions, explaining that coordination on the ground has always been in place against aggression by Israeli occupation.

Abu Obeida added: "Through these joint operations with Islamic Jihad, Hamas is sending a message to the occupation that resistance movements are united on the ground to respond when appropriate to crimes committed. And it is not up to the occupation to decide when to escalate battles." He further noted that Palestinian factions "decide their own priorities, especially the timing and means of responding to crimes by the occupation. This message has been delivered."

Although Israel has mostly controlled the level of military escalation against the Gaza Strip, all signs indicate that Israel's war posture towards Gaza will lead to further escalation especially on the eve of parliamentary elections scheduled for the end of January. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu launched his election campaign and will try to prove his "competence" on security matters to the Israeli public by flexing his muscles against Palestinian resistance in the Gaza Strip.

Netanyahu knows his margin to prove that he is qualified as a strategic decision maker is narrow especially after missing the opportunity to strike Iran -- at least until after the Israeli elections. At the same time, it would be too risky for Netanyahu to escalate against Hizbullah even after the group's Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah declared that his fighters are using an Iranian-made unmanned surveillance plane to fly over the Negev Desert, south of occupied Palestine, close to Israel's nuclear reactor.

Netanyahu fears that an escalation with Hizbullah would uncover the fault lines in Israel's domestic front, especially his government's failure to secure residential compounds and key Israeli facilities despite available intelligence confirming Hizbullah possesses rockets that can reach all corners of Israel.

Occupied Negev in Palestine includes several cities, towns, villages, rural areas and cooperatives that house the largest number of right-wing Zionist supporters, specifically Netanyahu's Likud Party. Since this region is a prime target for rocket attacks by Palestinian resistance groups and factions in response to Israeli air raids against Gaza, it is certain that Netanyahu will try to appear firm ahead of the elections when responding to any operations by the Palestinian resistance in Gaza.

Netanyahu will respond to any attacks from the Gaza Strip to appease his electorate in south Israel. Another compelling reason for Netanyahu to opt for military escalation against Gaza in the coming period is the fact that both left- and right-wing parties and groups will criticise him anyway if he continues in the same current pace of response to resistance attacks.

The real motivation for Netanyahu to escalate military operations against Gaza, however, is because the balance of power is currently strongly in favour of the occupation army. Also, political and military circles in Israel believe the occupation army established deterrence against Palestinian resistance during the 2008 war. This would mean that resistance groups will not want to change combat rules even if Tel Aviv intensifies operations against Gaza.

There is strong evidence that at least Israel's military leadership's believes this theory, according to General Mickey Edelstein, the commander of Israeli troops in charge of military operations in the Gaza Strip and surrounding areas. He asserted that his forces are capable of resolving confrontations with the resistance in the Gaza Strip.

There is no solid evidence on the ground to support the Israeli general's theory, especially since Hamas is responding to any Israeli attack against Gaza. Nonetheless, this assumption will be the basis of any action by Israel against the Gaza Strip -- at least until the end of election season.

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