Saturday,22 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1207, (24 - 30 July 2014)
Saturday,22 September, 2018
Issue 1207, (24 - 30 July 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Israel’s Protective Edge: why now?

Tel Aviv’s offensive on Gaza has a lot to do with domestic pressures, in turn spurring Hamas to refuse a return to the status quo ante, writes Fadi Al-Husseini

Al-Ahram Weekly

The current Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip is not the first and won’t be the last if the political equation in the region does not change. Throughout previous aggressions Israel launched on the Gaza Strip, several military goals were declared. This time, “Operation Protective Edge” comes in a different context, with new domestic, regional and international circumstances. These conditions, by and large, are more prosaic and complex and have been key elements in determining Israel’s goals from this operation, as part of a larger strategy that goes beyond the war itself.A clear change in the map of world politics underlined a rising Russian role. With Russia’s fundamental stance in the Syrian crisis and evident US and EU bewilderment towards the issue of Ukraine and Crimea, the political weight of Russia can be barely overlooked anymore while fading US influence has become a fact.

China has revised its position and role in the Middle East and opted to stay away from the limelight, maintaining at the same time its interests but quietly. This was seen as the best way to stop its depleted popularity in the region in the aftermath of its obvious position supporting the Syrian regime.

Regionally, this war comes when the events of the Arab Spring continue to surprise all observers. The fall of the Muslim Brotherhood, coercively in Egypt and voluntarily in Tunisia, the escalated crisis in Syria, the unprecedented chaos in Iraq, Yemen and Libya, are cases in point. On the other hand, Iran managed to defuse some of the international pressure and has been successful in reviving and preserving the diplomatic track of its nuclear file.

In Israel, a volatile coalition has been facing mounting domestic criticism. Several domestic travails and economic difficulties made many Israeli intellectuals and politicians call repeatedly for dissolving the current government. In Palestine, the aggression on the Gaza Strip comes shortly after the long awaited national reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, a new deadlock in Palestinian-Israeli negotiations (Israel has been widely blamed for this stalemate), and a wave of violence in the West Bank, starting with the killing of three Israeli settlers and followed by the murder of a Palestinian teen in cold blood.

Israel had constantly asked the Palestinian Authority to choose between reconciliation with Hamas and peace with Israel. For this reason, Israel could not hide its ire at Palestinian reconciliation and the unity government, threatening the moderate Palestinian Authority with serious consequences. With Israel’s exaggerated stance against the Palestinian Authority, its closest allies called upon Israel to give the new Palestinian government a chance.

In light of the noticeable decay in Israel’s popularity, living day after day in international solitude, its frustration increased with the international position, especially the American, which welcomed the Palestinian unity government. Hence, it would not be bizarre to see Israel’s leaders accusing the Palestinian Authority of isolating Israel internationally.

In this vein, one should concede that the Palestinian leadership has succeeded recently in building bridges of trust with both people and governments around the world. The international community has come closer to the Palestinian narrative on peace from that of Israel, and international campaigns to boycott Israeli institutions and products expanded to include civil society organisations, universities and officials.

Considering the above, the decision by the Israeli government to seek a way out of its domestic crisis and international dilemma becomes clear. Intriguingly, any internal cohesion in Israel depends mainly on a sense of fear from an external threat and, hence, making up an external crisis is not a novel strategy on the part of its decision makers. But what will be the outcome now, in this chaotic region and at this critical time?

Iran: Although there is wide anti-Iran sentiment in Israel and considerable popular support for a military strike on Iran, polls show Israelis lukewarm to the Sisyphean task of attacking Iran unilaterally. What about the Northern Front?

Hizbullah: In spite of the insomnia caused by Hizbullah to Israel’s leaders, they are fully aware of the strategic, logistical and military capabilities Hizbullah enjoys. More so, Israeli leaders are also aware of Hizbullah’s venture in Syria and the losses it received there, though these are not enough to make Hizbullah incapable of surprises. What about the Southern Front?

Palestine: Whether the story claiming that Israel “fabricated” the killing of the three settlers (according to this story, the three settlers died in a car accident in Israel and the government hid their death in order to use it later to corner the Palestinian Authority and Hamas) is accurate or not, Israel was interested in picking a fight with the Palestinians. Since the Palestinian side is the weakest link, the Israeli decision maker is concerned that any escalation and bloodletting bring neither huge damage and losses, nor wide attention, considering the bloody regional conditions and international chaos.

Israel has blamed Hamas for concocting the killing of the Israeli settlers (Hamas did not claim responsibility, when it usually does for its operations). However, Israeli settlers did not give the Israeli government time to benefit from the incident when a number of settlers burned a Palestinian teen alive.

Hence, Israel decided to transfer the battle to the Gaza Strip, aiming at involving Hamas (at the helm of resistance in Gaza) officially in a confrontation that does not intend, of course, to end Hamas. One may notice the sequence of Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip; targeting unpopulated open areas at first and gradually developed to strike almost every spot in the Gaza Strip. The required confrontation — a goal left unstated — aims to drag Hamas and other groups to react and fire more rockets at Israeli towns.

Fully aware of the limited losses from Palestinian rockets, the Israeli government succeeded, despite some criticism, to huddle its people together against the threat coming from the Gaza Strip and to distract attention away from domestic problems or diplomatic or international crises.

Gains have not stopped at the domestic level. With every rocket fired from Gaza, the Israeli government gets closer to other goals. The US, French and other international positions are a case in point. Tellingly, whereas most of the actors in the international community started to accept the Palestinian position and reprimand the adamant stands of Israel, which became a quasi-loner state, the rockets fired from Gaza brought them back to the Israeli fold, announcing that Israel has the right to defend itself, regardless of its excessive use of force and the horrifying death toll among the Palestinians.

Not limited to these gains, “Protective Edge” gave the new Palestinian unity government that irked Israel a heavy blow. Any plans of this new government to implement the reconciliation deal and prepare for national elections have gone by the wayside as priorities have changed in the face of Israeli aggression. Also, Israel bet — as it has always done — on contradictory positions among Palestinians on how to deal with its aggression, increasing the chances for setback in Palestinian reconciliation.

The only military goal “Protective Edge” would achieve is debilitating and draining the capabilities of Palestinian resistance groups in light of the limited stock of weapons and the continuity of the siege and closed tunnels between Gaza and Egypt.

Thus, Israel would accept — and accepted — a ceasefire without any further conditions. Unexpectedly, Hamas refused the Egyptian ceasefire initiative, prodding the Israeli government into unplanned scenarios — a ground invasion. The longer the operation lasts, and the more losses Israel receives, the more likely Israel would seek new terms and amendments to the 2012 truce, so it can be accepted in the Israeli street.

As regards Hamas and the Palestinian resistance, they will not accept languishing in the besieged Gaza Strip any more, and thus will not consent to the terms of the 2012 truce. Finding a port to the outside world has become sine qua non: either through the Rafah border, or a seaport or even an airport. It is obvious that neither Hamas nor the disgruntled and weary people in Gaza will accept to return to the bygone detestable era.

The writer is a counsellor at the Embassy of Palestine in Turkey.

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