Sunday,23 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1122, 15 - 21 November 2012
Sunday,23 September, 2018
Issue 1122, 15 - 21 November 2012

Ahram Weekly

Killing as electioneering

Ahead of Israeli elections, Netanyahu appears to be interested in striking Gaza, writes Saleh Al-Naami

Al-Ahram Weekly

After a brief talk with her children, Raba, 59, called her sister Fadia, 53, and offered to host her, her son Amer, his wife and their three children as guests in her home in Al-Maghazi Refugee Camp in the centre of the Gaza Strip until Israeli attacks subside. Since Fadia lives in the frontline region by the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, her older sister is worried she would be hurt if Israeli raids over Gaza continue. Fadia and her entire family were injured during the war on Gaza at the end of 2008.
Fadia agreed to come, as many other Palestinians families on the frontline have done, since they are most likely to be affected by Israel’s escalating attacks against Gaza. Residents mostly feel Israel is not done yet and will significantly step up military attacks on Gaza. The only thing stopping it right now is bad weather and rain in Palestine.
Israel stepped up attacks on Gaza to prevent Palestinian resistance from changing the current rules of engagement with Israel. Israel could carry out air raids and assassinations and not usually be met with strong reaction by Palestinian factions. Recently, however, Hamas especially changed this formula by quickly responding to Israeli operations, and at times even sought to lure the occupation army into limited combat. This included ambushes and bombings by the group targeting the occupation army, and responding to assassinations of its members and other factions by bombing military and high-density settlement positions in the areas surrounding the Gaza Strip.
These attacks especially embarrass the government in Tel Aviv and put Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in a bad position, because he is in the middle of his election campaign and wants to prove to Israelis that he is reliable and his party should win.
Hamas realised that by ignoring Israel’s attacks and not responding to Israeli aggression only helped encourage and whet Tel Aviv’s appetite to continue attacks on Gaza. This embarrassed the Hamas leadership in front of the public and it was strongly criticised by other Palestinian factions. Many interpreted Hamas’s silence as gradually abandoning resistance tactics and surrendering to taking care of governance, which the political and economic siege has voided of any real substance anyway.
One Hamas leader told Al-Ahram Weekly that conditions preceding the recent escalation decreased his group’s popularity in the Gaza Strip, and allowed extremist groups — such as Salafist jihadists — to challenge Hamas. Thus, the group realised that the format of governance it is trapped in is in fact a rope around the group’s neck that diminished its ability to manoeuvre and is convenient for Israel.
All signs indicate that Hamas’s new attitude is a strategic transformation, essentially aiming to sustain the group’s resistance activities and prevent it from becoming another Fatah over time. Hamas understands that this transformation would essentially mean being subjected to a disproportionate response by Israel, therefore the group is trying to keep its operations in proportion — in terms of size and targets — with Israel’s aggression.
In the past, Tel Aviv interpreted Hamas’s choice not to confront it as recognition of the deterrence power established by the Israeli army against the group after the 2008 war. By escalating clashes today, the group is trying to prove to Israel that it is mistaken in this interpretation.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said that escalating attacks by Israel and targeting civilians “is a critical matter and we cannot let it pass. We must put an end to it.” Barhoum said that the Palestinian people “and their courageous resistance groups will never allow Israel to impose any formulae on our people. Our resistance to occupation and Zionist soldiers who have killed our kin is legitimate.”
He held the occupation power “fully responsible for all the consequences and repercussions of this escalation. We will never allow Palestinian blood to be the price for Israeli electioneering and political gains.”
Israelis agree that Netanyahu wants to restore the rules of engagement between Israel and resistance in the Gaza Strip, as well as Israel’s deterrence power, which is why he is attacking Gaza. But he also realises that he cannot undertake a major land, air and sea attack — like in 2008 — because of the transformations that have occurred in the region. Nonetheless, it appears that Netanyahu will continue to order air strikes to assassinate a large number of Hamas leaders and members, and after that will allow Egypt to intercede and mediate a truce.
In order to gain international legitimacy for his scheme, Netanyahu met with foreign ambassadors and claimed that Palestinians initiated confrontations by attacking Jewish settlements. He also personally briefed them about the damage done by rocket attacks, although no Jewish settlers were killed during the attacks; eight Palestinians are dead because of Israeli air strikes.
Retired General Ron Tira, a researcher at the Israeli National Security Research Centre, said that Tel Aviv believes that one of the most serious consequences of the Arab Spring is the bigger role public opinion now plays in decision-making in the Arab world. This is especially true in countries where revolutions for democratic transformation took place, specifically in Egypt.
Therefore, Tira asserts, there is real concern by decision-makers in Tel Aviv that in the wake of a major military attack against Gaza public pressure in Egypt would force Egypt’s rulers to revise the Camp David Treaty, which Israel considers one of its national security pillars.
Meanwhile, Israel is concerned that any major military operation against Gaza would distract the world’s attention from Iran’s nuclear programme, jeopardise the alliance against Iran, and shrink the role of Arab countries in this alliance. At the same time, Israel is worried that its international standing will drop further if it carries out a military operation against Gaza, because the international media, like in 2008, would once again broadcast images of the atrocities it is committing, such as torn corpses of children, women and the elderly.
This all implies that Netanyahu is only interested in “limited” confrontations, mainly air attacks, so that when the Egyptian side intercedes and a truce is reached, Israel could return to its strikes. According to the Israeli logic, this would restore its deterrence power and also boost Netanyahu’s chances of winning in the upcoming elections.
But the instigator cannot always end confrontations at their own convenience.

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