haaretz, middle east eye

A Continuation of Israel’s Policies
Gideon Levy, Haaretz, Aug 7 2022 01:51

An Iron Dome battery. Photo: AP

Thus wrote Labor Party chair Merav Michaeli, a few minutes after Israel once again launched a criminal assault on the Gaza Strip, a moment before the killing of the first Palestinian toddler, who won’t be the last:

The residents of Israel deserve to live in safety. No sovereign state would agree to a terror organization besieging its residents. … I support the security forces.

Benjamin Netanyahu hadn’t yet reacted, Itamar Ben-Gvir hadn’t woken up, Yoav Gallant didn’t yet threaten the head of the snake, and already the leader of the Zionist left falls in line with the right, salutes the military and supports a war that hadn’t even begun. This time she even got there before Shimon Peres.

Michaeli cannot be forgiven for her unbelievable lack of awareness: After four days of a voluntary partial lockdown in the south, the leader of the left says that no state would agree to a “siege.” Without blinking, no state. A member of the government that is responsible for a horrific 16-year siege dares to be shocked by a 2-minute voluntary, partial lockdown. Instead of supporting the government’s momentary restraint, which lasted the eternity of the life of a butterfly (time’s a-wasting, the elections is nigh), the Labor Party once again supports a foolish war of choice, as did all its predecessors. The Zionist left once again gives the concept of a double standard a bad name. Perhaps at least now the penny will drop for more supporters of the center-left: There’s no real difference between it and the right. Israel can no longer even pretend that it didn’t start this war – whose infantile name, Operation Breaking Dawn, was given to it at birth – or that it had no choice. This time they even forewent the advance saber-rattling and got straight to the point: the arrest of an Islamic Jihad leader in the West Bank, which they knew ahead of time would provoke a severe response, and the assassination of a senior commander in the Gaza Strip, after which they knew there was no way back, and Israel is already waging a “defensive war,” a just war of a state to which everything is permitted. The peace-loving country that only wants security for its inhabitants – such an innocent. The state that has everything except deterrence: There is nothing or no one to deter Israel from attacking Gaza.

But this time, the government is one of “change and healing.” Fifteen months after the last delight, Operation Guardian of the Walls, dawn has broken. Five weeks after the fastest gun in the West took office, Prime Minister Yair Lapid is already sending the army to war. Never in Israel’s history was a prime minister in such a hurry to kill. All the Netanyahu cases pale in the face of the crime of launching a needless war that will contribute nothing but more bloodshed, most of it Palestinian. And all of Netanyahu’s failings pale in the face of his relative restraint in using military force while in office. Keep on getting riled up about the cigars – at least Netanyahu doesn’t have to prove his macho credentials, as Lapid does.

It’s true that the analysts, the old boys club and the mayors in the south pressed for this war, as they always do, but never was there such a rapid capitulation to the caprices to launch a war; Israel was hardly given a minute for passionate excoriations on the air. Now, when only a few months separate one attack in Gaza from another, there’s no point in even asking what the goals are. There are no goals, except the desire to prove that ours is bigger. If there were goals, and if quiet were one of them, and if this were a government of change, then Lapid would have taught Israel a lesson in restraint; and if Lapid were also a courageous statesman he would have led to change by recognizing Hamas, lifting the siege and making an effort to meet with the Gaza leadership. Anything less than this is a direct continuation of the policies of all of Israel’s governments, in whose DNA baseless wars run deep. That’s why there is no need for a government of change. Just be sure to remember who started this war, and who supported it.

The logic behind Israel’s Gaza attack, if any, is anyone’s guess
Meron Rapoport, Middle East Eye, Aug 7 2022

Relatives of a young Palestinian killed during the night in the Jabalia
refugee camp react during his funeral, Aug 7 2022. (Photo: AFP)

Even among the many strange aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the events of the past week are remarkably odd.

Last Monday, Aug 1, in the Jenin refugee camp, Israeli soldiers arrested Bassam al-Saadi, a prominent figure in the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in the occupied West Bank. Despite his importance, the detention can hardly be termed exceptional. Saadi has already been arrested seven times by Israel, most recently a year ago. Routine, then, would be a fitting description of this latest detention. Saadi’s arrest did not receive noticeable attention on the Palestinian street, perhaps because he was not severely injured during the process, indicating that he was evidently not armed, or perhaps because he wasn’t especially well known outside Jenin and in the ranks of the PIJ itself. There were no special West Bank protests recorded, and the PIJ itself made do with a warning to Israel not to damage Saadi’s health. The group’s announcement said:

We are prepared to respond to this aggression with force if it does not stop.

But despite no actual threat from PIJ, at least in public, to launch rockets from Gaza toward Israel if Saadi was not released, Israel in a surprise move decided to restrict traffic around Israeli communities adjacent to the Gaza-Israel boundary, an area known in Israel as the “Gaza envelope.” It is not unusual for Israel to impose restrictions on mobility there as a means to prevent injury to Israeli civilians. However, in the past this step was always taken after Palestinian groups in Gaza launched rockets or after Israel itself attacked targets there. This time, no such unusual incidents preceded the announcement of restricted traffic.

Then, for three days, between Tuesday and Friday, neither the PIJ nor any other Palestinian group fired missiles from Gaza toward Israel. That is, the expected “revenge” for Saadi’s detention in Jenin, in anticipation of which civilian traffic in Israel had been restricted, did not arrive. Nevertheless, although things in Gaza were quiet, on Friday afternoon Israel launched an attack by air on various points in the besieged Palestinian Strip. The main focus was a residential building in Gaza City. Several missiles landed with precision on three apartments in that building. The barrage killed Taiseer al-Jabari, the commander of the northern division of al-Quds Brigades (Saraya al-Quds), the military wing of the PIJ. It also killed Alaa Qaddoum, a five-year-old girl, together with a 23-year-old woman and seven other Palestinian men. Jabari, like Saadi, was unknown to the Israeli public and possibly to the Palestinian public, too.

Even Ran Kochav, the spokesperson of the Israeli army, forgot Jabari’s name when he was repeating the announcement of his assassination on live television on Saturday morning. The Israeli military announced that Jabari “was believed to have recently been promoting plans for anti-tank attacks against Israeli civilians and IDF soldiers.” In other words, even the army’s own announcement did not clarify whether the Israeli action was meant to prevent specific acts of violence planned by Jabari against Israel, or whether the “accusation” against Jabari was more general.

The Israeli army did not bother to explain how the “precision” Israeli attack killed five-year-old Alaa Qaddoum. There was no apology, nor any admission that a mistake had been made. It was evident enough that Alaa living near Jabari made her a legitimate target. A few hours after the Israeli bombardment, PIJ began firing mortars and rockets toward the Israeli communities near Gaza and toward Rishon LeZion and Bat Yam, two cities on the southern outskirts of Tel Aviv. Israel continued to bomb Gaza. By Sunday afternoon, the Palestinian Ministry of Health reported 31 people had been killed since the start of these events, including six children. More than 265 have been wounded, with more than half of them elders, women and children.

Although it of course condemned the Israeli attack, Hamas, the de facto rulers in Gaza, as of Sunday afternoon had not joined in the fighting, at least not officially, which may explain the word in Israel that the “campaign” would last a week, like an end-of-season sale in a dress shop. But there is no guarantee that the violence will not grow or that the violent events of May 2021 will not be reprised. Last year, Israel killed 256 Palestinians, including 66 children, during an 11-day military campaign in Gaza. In Israel, 13 people were killed, including two children, by Palestinian rockets.

So, what prompted Israel’s military operation, absent any violent action from the Palestinian side in the West Bank or in Gaza? Israel lacked even its usual excuse that it was “responding” to attacks on its civilians and soldiers. Why did Israel willingly choose to put its own citizens under lockdown in the Gaza-area communities, even though PIJ had threatened no bombardment nor launched one? Why did Israel choose to target Gaza, despite knowing that its bombardment would provoke rocket fire at Israeli territory and involve a lockdown in southern Israel along with, potentially, loss of life?

Many Palestinians and left-wing Israelis are saying that brand-new Prime Minister Yair Lapid, less than two months in office as caretaker premier, intentionally put Israel on alert for a military confrontation to buttress his political standing ahead of Israel’s upcoming general elections, scheduled for Nov 1. This claim has a certain logic to it. Lapid, a civilian leader, never served as a combat soldier and spent his military service as a journalist with the army’s newspaper. Hence, by cultivating a strong aura of security, despite his lack of military experience, he can enhance his standing with the public in a military-loving, right-wing country like Israel.

The fact that former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Lapid’s main competitor in the elections, is basing the entire electoral campaign of his party, Likud, on the fact that Lapid sits in a government together with the “Islamist” list headed by Mansour Abbas, reinforces this explanation for Lapid’s decision. Abbas is the head of a coalition of Palestinian parties in the Israeli parliament, the United Arab List, whose support would be vital for Lapid to form a majority in any future government. Given that the right-wing denigrates Lapid as someone who “has sold the country to the Muslim Brotherhood and the supporters of terror,” his demonstrating toughness against the Palestinians could help Lapid counter Netanyahu’s propaganda.

This explanation, though tempting, may not be sufficient. Lapid certainly remembers what happened to his close friend Ehud Olmert immediately after he became prime minister in 2006. Olmert, too, lacked combat experience as a soldier. He too served with the army newspaper. After Hezbollah abducted Israeli soldiers in northern Israel, Olmert, determined to demonstrate strength, launched an extensive military operation in Lebanon. That campaign ended in failure and marked the beginning of the end of Olmert’s political career.

Moreover, if the operation in Gaza intensifies and leads to widespread civilian Palestinian deaths, the move could actually complicate Lapid’s domestic political situation. Almost the only path for the bloc headed by Netanyahu to achieve a parliamentary majority would be through a low voter turnout among Palestinian citizens of Israel, as occurred in Mar 2021 when it was about 45%. If the turnout among Palestinian voters reaches 65%, as it did in the election of Mar 2020, the chance that Netanyahu could attain a majority would be negligible. Judging by experience, then, military conflict with the Palestinians in the West Bank or Gaza tends to keep Palestinian voters in Israel at home on election day, out of anger at the government that is committing these acts, and with a corresponding decrease in the prospects for a Lapid victory.

Another explanation for Israel’s unprovoked attack on Gaza this past week may come from another direction entirely. Recently there have been renewed contacts between the US, Iran, the EU, China and Russia on the question of extending the NNPT. Observers are predicting that prospects for achieving this are not good, but the fact that these discussions are still in progress is worrying to Israel, which is doing its utmost to disrupt them. Biden’s visit to the Middle East last month was, from Israel’s standpoint, a means to eliminate the last chances of an agreement with Iran, and instead to create a regional anti-Iranian military alliance to which Israel would be a party. This did not happen, and the upshot of the regional conference convened by Saudi Arabia in Jeddah actually was an apparent willingness to reach an agreement with Iran rather than confront it.

If Israel’s interest called for preventing Iran from developing a nuclear capability, it should have supported the extension of the non-proliferation treaty: Iran, after President Donald Trump’s 2018 move to unilaterally withdraw the US from that agreement, has only improved its nuclear capabilities. Israel’s real concern is that lifting sanctions on Iran will enhance its economic and political position in the region and indirectly strengthen the forces of opposition to Israel. A military operation in Gaza that would force the PIJ to fire on Israel, positioning Iran as a “sponsor of terror” because of its support for the PIJ, could help Israel in its attempts to torpedo an agreement in Vienna.

Another relevant consideration may involve Hamas. Israel has long had an interest in the division between Hamas and Fatah and between Gaza and the West Bank. Israeli leaders have more than once implied being in favour of continued rule by Hamas in Gaza. Lately, it seems increasingly evident that relations between Israel and the Hamas government in Gaza are starting to resemble relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah: economic concessions in exchange for peace and quiet. Allowing more Gaza workers and merchants entry to Israel is part of that trend. Damage to the PIJ in Gaza could help Hamas “restrain” the former, with further concessions as the quid pro quo.

But seeking rational explanations for Israel’s strange behaviour may be superfluous, because the best explanation may come from the world of social psychology. Israeli society no longer sees the occupation at all – because the status quo appears to Israelis as normal and natural. And, under these circumstances, Israel is bewildered every time this situation arouses resistance. This is true whether the resistance manifests as shootings by individual, unaffiliated Palestinians targeting Israelis in Tel Aviv or Bnei Brak, as occurred a few months ago, or whether an organisation like Hamas or the PIJ is behind it.

Israel behaves the way it does because it doesn’t feel accountable to anyone at all, whether in the international arena, the Israeli domestic arena or, thanks to the Abraham Accords, the regional Middle East arena. The Palestinians, of course, don’t count at all. At a certain point, Israel evidently resigned itself to having no goal for the future – whether the goal be the elimination of Palestinian resistance and the collapse of Hamas, as Netanyahu promised before being elected prime minister a second time, in 2009, or the signing of some political agreement with the Palestinians, or even orchestrating their mass expulsion as Israel did in 1948. In any of these scenarios, the logic of Israel’s recent actions is difficult to parse. Given the context, even an irrational act such as provoking a completely superfluous military conflict in Gaza seems somehow logical.

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