Monday, December 29, 2008
What's Really Behind the Israeli Attacks in Gaza?
The Israeli air strikes in Gaza have already killed more than 350 people. Below is a good four-point summary by Neve Gordon on what might be the objectives behind. Would like to add in the first point though that the objective may not be to kill Hamas, although Israel would certainly wish that. But - as the below article also states - that is not realistic. I think Israel also understands that quite well. They tried that with Hezbollah in 2006, and failed miserably. Like Hezbollah, Hamas enjoys mass support among the Palestinians and throughout the Arab/Muslim world. The Israeli objective is probably to force Hamas into a settlement based on conditions of Israel's choosing. The objective is to cut Hamas' hands, logistical and moral. Logistical in terms of further restricting their movement and activities. Moral in terms of de-legitimatizing their cause in the eyes of the world should they engage in violent resistance in future against any Israeli aggression. That also appears to be the goal behind the economic blockade in Gaza for the last several months. Haaretz reports that Israeli "Defence Minister Ehud Barak instructed the Israel Defense Forces to prepare for the operation over six months ago, even as Israel was beginning to negotiate a ceasefire agreement with Hamas." The report also notes that about a month ago Israel deliberately flared up the tension by carrying out a military incursion in Gaza during the ceasefire.
One may also add another possibility here. Preparing vigorously since the end of the summer 2006 Lebanon war, Israel's objective may be to open two fronts, the other being South Lebanon. The objective may be limited to regaining its aura of 'invincibility' (or power of deterrence) by launching effective air raid campaigns on Gaza and South Lebanon (see point three in the below article). But the plan may also be wider in scope. Some reports indicate that Israel has already asked its residents in the North, close to the Lebanese border, to take precautionary measures, and be ready to move into protective shelters. Eight Katyusha rockets were found by a farmer on Thursday (Dec 25) in a valley in South Lebanon, two miles from the Israeli border. They were fitted with timers and set to launch on late Thursday night. This was before the Israel air raids started in Gaza on Saturday (Dec 27). In a speech on Sunday, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah suggested that Israel may be looking for an excuse to attack South Lebanon, and, if Hezbollah were to make any strikes on Israel, it would do it openly. He also suggested that Israel wants to make use of the transitional period in the White House and create conditions that will shape the possibilities and constraints for the next incumbent. Nasrallah reminded people to be vigilant against Israeli plots.
On a related note, I don't think Nasrallah expects anything out of ordinary from Obama's administration. Given the team of 'hawkish-pragmatists' that Obama has assembled around himself, if that is any indicator, it seems that there won't be any significant changes to the current US policy toward the Palestine-Israel conflict. Rather it seems likely that we will see a continuation of 'creating a new middle east' agenda, under one pretext or another. The agenda is supported not only by Israel but also many Arab regimes. The current onslaught in Gaza is probably part of that plan. The US and the Arab regimes all have given a green signal to Israel.
Like in 2006 when they blamed Hezbollah, this time the status quo Arab regimes (Saudi, Egypt, Jordan) are blaming Hamas. Over the past few years, as Seymour Hersh and other noted journalists have pointed out, these regimes have actively collaborated with Israel and America to crush the resistance in Gaza and Lebanon (and the anti-dictatorial movements in their own countries).
What, Exactly, is Israel's Mission?
By Neve Gordon, CounterPunch, December 29, 2008
The first bombardment took three minutes and forty seconds. Sixty Israeli F-16 fighter jets bombed fifty sites in Gaza, killing over two hundred Palestinians, and wounding close to a thousand more.
A few hours after the deadly strike, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert convened a press conference in Tel-Aviv. With Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni sitting on his right and Defense Minister Ehud Barak on his left, he declared: “It may take time, and each and every one of us must be patient so we can complete the mission.”
But what exactly, one might ask, is Israel’s mission?
Although Olmert did not say as much, the “mission” includes four distinct objectives.
The first is the destruction of Hamas, a totally unrealistic goal. Even though the loss of hundreds of cadres and some key leaders will no doubt hurt the organization, Hamas is a robust political movement with widespread grassroots support, and it is unlikely to surrender or capitulate to Israeli demands following a military assault. Ironically, Israel’s attempt to destroy Hamas using military force has always ended up strengthening the organization, thus corroborating the notion that power produces its own vulnerability.
The second objective has to do with Israel’s upcoming elections. The assault on Gaza is also being carried out to help Kadima and Labor defeat Likud and its leader Benjamin Netanyhu, who is currently ahead in the polls. It is not coincidental that Netanyahu’s two main competitors, Livni and Barak, were invited to the press conference – since, after the assault, it will be more difficult for Netanyahu to characterize them as “soft” on the Palestinians. Whether or not the devastation in Gaza will help Livni defeat Netanyhu or help Barak gain votes in the February elections is difficult to say, but the strategy of competing with a warmonger like Netanyhu by beating the drums of war says a great deal about all three major contenders.
The third objective involves the Israeli military. After its notable humiliation in Lebanon during the summer of 2006, the IDF has been looking for opportunities to reestablish its global standing. Last Spring it used Syria as its laboratory and now it has decided to focus on Gaza. Emphasizing the mere three minutes and forty seconds it took to bomb fifty sites is just one the ways the Israeli military aims to restore its international reputation.
Finally, Hamas and Fatah have not yet reached an agreement regarding how to proceed when Mahmoud Abbas ends his official term as President of the Palestinian National Authority on January 9th, 2009. One of the outcomes of this assault is that Abbas will remain in power for a while longer since Hamas will be unable to mobilize its supporters in order to force him to resign.
What is clearly missing from this list of Israeli objectives is the attempt to halt the firing of Qassam rockets into Israel’s southern towns. Unlike the objectives I mentioned, which are not discussed by government officials, this one is presented by the government as the operation’s primary objective. Yet, the government is actively misleading the public, since Israel could have put an end to the rockets a long time ago. Indeed, there was relative quiet during the six-months truce with Hamas, a quiet that was broken most often as a reaction to Israeli violence: that is, following the extra-judicial execution of a militant or the imposition of a total blockade which prevented basic goods, like food stuff and medicine, from entering the Gaza Strip. Rather than continuing the truce, the Israeli government has once again chosen to adopt strategies of violence that are tragically akin to the one’s deployed by Hamas, only the Israeli ones are much more lethal.
If the Israeli government really cared about its citizens and the country’s long term ability to sustain itself in the Middle East, it would abandon the use of violence and talk with its enemies.
Neve Gordon is the chair of the Department of Politics and Government, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel, and is the author of Israel’s Occupation, University of California Press, 2008. His website is www.israelsoccupation.info