Sunday,17 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1205, (10 - 16 July 2014)
Sunday,17 December, 2017
Issue 1205, (10 - 16 July 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Pact of vengeance

Netanyahu’s government is baying for revenge against the Palestinians. The only question is the scale of the Israeli aggression it will unleash, writes Ahmed Al-Sayed from Gaza

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Gazans woke up early Tuesday to a new long-term offensive dubbed “Operation Protective Edge”. So far, at least 50 sites have been struck. The Israeli attack was both by air and sea while troops are mobilising for a possible ground invasion.

The current offensive is considered the most serious flare-up since November 2012 and came as Israel’s reaction to the abduction of three Jewish settlers and whose bodies were found early this month.

Israel appears bent on dealing the Islamist Hamas movement a heavy blow, with officials speaking of a “staged escalation”. In Gaza, medics said seven children and three women were among 22 people wounded in the overnight strikes, with more raids during the morning. Two of the wounded were in serious condition.

Israeli threats to wage the military campaign on Gaza have been growing, like a snowball, every day. The only thing the members of the Netanyahu government differ on is the scale of their vengeance. Will it be a limited operation, ending when rockets cease to fly from Gaza northwards? Or is a full-scale war — perhaps even reoccupation — more likely?

Netanyahu was set to hold talks with security chiefs late Tuesday at which he was expected to order a “significant broadening” of the operation and to instruct the military to “take off the gloves”, a source close to the premier told public radio.

Tensions are running high in the West Bank and Gaza after extremist settlers abducted and burned alive Mohamed Abu Khdeir, a teenager from East Jerusalem.

As news of the crime brought a wave of international condemnation, Israel was caught between demanding justice for the recent murder of three settlers, which it blames on Hamas, and wishing to avoid a third Intifada fuelled by Palestinian outrage.

A large scale Israeli war on Gaza, similar to Operation Cast Lead in 2008 and Operation Pillar of Defence in 2012, may be risky for Israel at a time when the region is simmering with turmoil and the international community is keeping close tabs on Israel’s conduct.

Out of power in Gaza, although a junior partner in a government of national unity, Hamas may decide to go for broke if Israel were to push its luck.

Hamas officials have indicated as much, promising to make Israel pay a “heavy price” if it escalates its attacks on Gaza.

Some analysts say that Hamas has also accumulated more military capabilities since the last major battles with Israel. If the current confrontations continue, Hamas may be tempted to fire missiles as far as Tel Aviv, and perhaps bring life to a standstill in more than one Israeli town.

Political analyst Hani Al-Besus said that Israel should think twice before launching a major attack on Gaza.

“If Israel were to wage a brutal attack on Gaza, could it withstand the consequences? Will the firing of missiles on Israeli towns stop? Israel has to ponder many questions before starting anything,” Al-Besus added.

One likely scenario is for occupation forces to start a series of limited attacks to discourage the firing of missiles from Gaza.

So far, Israel has been waging daily air raids on Gaza. The worst such raid took place at dawn Monday, claiming the lives of nine Palestinian resistance fighters, seven of them from the Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas. The Qassam Brigades promised revenge.

“This blessed blood will not have been spilled in vain. The crimes committed by the enemy will not go unpunished. The Zionist enemy will pay dearly,” a statement by the brigades said. The next day, the Qassam Brigades shelled nearby Israeli towns, including Ashdod and Ashkelon, and said that this was just the beginning.

“The enemy must understand that the previous battles in Gaza would be a walk in the park in comparison of what we have in mind for the coming battle... We are not going to let anyone ask us for self-restraint,” the brigades warned.

A few days earlier, Mahmoud Al-Zahhar — a key figure in Hamas — boasted about his group’s military potential. “Today, we can fire rockets at any occupied city in Palestine,” he said.

Hamas leaders called on all resistance groups to mobilise their fighters in anticipation of Israel’s aggression.

On Monday, Hamas issued a statement saying: “Blood for blood. And he who sets fire will burn in it.”

Addressing the Israelis, Hamas warned: “We will not be fooled by your tricks and will not allow you to get away with your crimes.”

Hamas urged its government partner, the Palestinian Authority, to stand by the resistance. “This is the moment of truth. There is no room for ambivalent words or dumb justifications. Unity comes at a price,” the Islamic group told the government of Mahmoud Abbas.

Hamas, meanwhile, denied that it is willing to accept a “calming down” period through Egyptian mediation. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zahri denied that the movement was considering a ceasefire with Israel. “There is a lot of nonsense in the media about a calming down agreement with the occupation. But all such talk is groundless,” Abu Zahri said. “We in Hamas are acting in self-defence. The problem is in the occupation [army] attacking us. It is the right of our people to repulse the aggression through all possible means,” Abu Zahri added.

According to Israeli sources, Egyptian intelligence is passing messages back and forth between Israel and Hamas in an attempt to calm the situation. But Hamas said that it cannot make a deal unless Israel releases the Hamas parliamentarians it recently arrested, as well as former Palestinian inmates that it detained shortly after their release. Hamas is also demanding an end of Israel’s pre-emptive air raids.

The Israeli government has been divided over how to tackle the current crisis. Prime Minister Netanyahu was urging self-restraint, while his coalition partner, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, wants a full-scale assault on Gaza, coupled with targeted killings, culminating in a possible reoccupation of the Gaza Strip.

During a recent cabinet session, Netanyahu chided Lieberman for recent statements the foreign minister made during a visit to Sderot, when he hinted that the government wasn’t doing enough to stop the shelling of rockets from Gaza. The Israeli government, meanwhile, called 1,500 reservists into active service, in anticipation of possible action against Gaza.

Hamas has struck a note of defiance, saying that it cannot let the Israelis dictate their terms. “Our people will not submit to your crimes. The resistance will not allow you to make conditions. You will pay, sooner or later,” Abu Zahri told the Israelis. Israeli analysts agree that a large-scale operation against Hamas may backfire.

Writing in Yedioth Ahronoth, Ron Ben-Yishai said: “Israel could have started a military campaign in Gaza before the killing of Abu Khdeir. But doing it now could set the region in fire — not just the West Bank, but Jordan, Egypt and perhaps Lebanon.”

In Haaretz, Amos Harel wrote that the protests that erupted in Israel, from the Galilee to the Negev, after the murder of Abu Khdeir, have dissuaded Netanyahu from escalating military action against Gaza.

“The fire burning among the Israeli Arabs is a further motivation for Netanyahu to refrain at present from taking the battle against Hamas into Gaza, even if more rockets are fired from there,” Harel said.

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