Q&A: Israeli attack on Gaza November 2012
What has led to the current violence?
Israel assassinated Hamas’ top military leader, Ahmad al-Jaabari, in Gaza on Wednesday 14 November 2012. Al-Jaabari was reportedly the head of Izz el-Deen Al-Qassam, Hamas’ military wing. The killing broke a truce brokered by Egypt between Israel and Hamas, reached only earlier in the week. An extensive bombing campaign called Operation Pillar of Cloud consisting of F-16 fighter planes, Apache helicopters and unmanned drones ensued, pounding Gaza constantly. Israel’s naval forces continue to conduct extensive shelling of civilian targets from the Gaza shoreline. The Israeli government said the assassination and the bombing campaign were a response to rockets launched by Hamas.
The Western media has painted Hamas as the instigator of the current violence, how much truth is there in this?
Hours before Hamas military commander Ahmed al-Jabari was killed he is reported to have received the draft of a permanent truce agreement with Israel, Israeli peace activist Gershon Baskin told Haaretz. Baskin helped mediate between Israel and Hamas in the deal to release Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier. Baskin told Haaretz on Thursday 15 November that senior officials in Israel knew about his contacts with Hamas and Egyptian intelligence aimed at formulating the permanent truce, but nevertheless approved the assassination. According to Baskin, during the past two years Jabari internalised the realisation that the rounds of hostilities with Israel were beneficial neither to Hamas nor to the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip and only caused suffering, and several times he acted to prevent firing by Hamas into Israel.
Gaza has been under an Israeli blockade since 2006 when Israel pulled out its settlers. Israel has deprived Gaza of building materials, food and medicines – Gaza is a virtual open prison. Since Israel last foray into Gaza named Operation Cast Lead in 2008, when over 700 Muslims were killed, Israel has carried out an economic blockade, which still remains in place.
Why has Israel launched an attack now?
For the moment it remains unclear why Israel has launched this attack now. In time it will become clearer if the attacks on Gaza have strategic aims or tactical objectives. Analysing recent events leads to 3 distinct possibilities:
- Israel says its attacks on Gaza have been carefully targeting Hamas’s rocket facilities. This has been on the back of Israel’s attack in Khartoum last month at the Yarmouk arms factory, killing two people. Israel believed the arms factory “belongs to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard” and was supplying rockets to Gaza. Rockets fired from Gaza are now reaching Tel Aviv and Jerusalem – a significant development.
- Undertaking military activity on the eve of an election has been a common feature of Israeli politics. The Netenyahu Likud party has recently merged with foreign minister Avigdor Liebermans Yisrael Beiteinu party for the upcoming January 2013 elections. This is a merger of the country’s right-wing parties in order to have a better chance of winning more legislative seats than both the Labour party and Kadima. Showing the right-wing parties are stronger and aggressive on national security places them in a stronger position in January 2013. A similar tactic was used in the last Israeli general election in 2009.
- The third possibility is Iran. Israel has been building the case to launch military strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities. The Washington Times made public on 1st October 2012 direct US-Iran negotiations in Qatar. These meetings were used by the Obama camp during the recent US election campaign as the basis of a grand bargain with Iran during Obama’s second term, if re-elected. Barbara Slavin and Laura Rozen at Al-Monitor reported that US officials told them Washington was considering offering a “more for more” deal with Iran. Tehran bureau chief for the New York Times, Thomas Erdbrink mentioned when Israel began firing at Gaza “forget any Iran-US talks if conflict in Gaza escalates.”
What has been the international response?
Unsurprisingly the reaction from the western world has been complete support of Israel’s narrative of Hamas firing rockets at innocent Israeli citizens. Despite tensions between Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the White House came out in full support of the Israeli operation in Gaza, citing Israel’s right to respond to the hundreds of rockets fired into Israel in recent days. The British position was unequivocal, British foreign minister William Hague said in a statement “Hamas bears ‘principle responsibility’ for the current crisis in Gaza.” The overall message is a green light for Israel.
What has been the response of the Muslim rulers?
The response of the Muslim rulers has not deviated from history: condemnation but little in the way of action. Egypt’s Muhammed Mursi, recalled his ambassador in Israel rather than removing Israel ambassador to Egypt. He then dispatched his Prime Minister Hisham Qandil to Gaza as a sign of support. The other counties of the Muslim world have called for the Arab League and United Nations to act. Whilst the Arab Spring has rid the region of rulers who were in bed with Israel, the current rulers have fallen short of decisive action that would end the killing of the people of Gaza. We have not seen diplomatic pressure such as expelling Israeli ambassadors or economic pressure such as cutting trade ties from either Egypt or Turkey.
Is Israel just too powerful?
The facts on the ground suggest the opposite. Israel is a very small country that lacks strategic depth. A jet fighter can fly across all of Israel (40 nautical miles wide from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea) within four minutes. Unable to field a large army due to its population it must rely on its reserves. Israel’s small population also increases its sensitivity to civilian and military losses.
Israel, from its inception, has relied upon migration. Whilst many in the past migrated to Israel, today this trend has reversed. Due to security fears growing numbers of Israelis want to leave and Israel is now in a situation where every year more Jews leave Israel for Europe and the US than the reverse.
Israel’s conventional forces consist of a mere 176,000 active troops with another 500,000 reservists. Its weaponry, much of it purchased from the US includes nearly 600 combat airplanes. Egypt inventory consists of 240 F-16 fighter planes with a total of 1200 air force planes and 450,000 soldiers. Similarly Turkey has 700 fighter jets with an active force of over 400,000 personnel.
Why have Muslim countries, which have been at war with Israel in the past, failed to liberate Palestine?
The Muslim rulers since the day Israel was created have never engaged in any meaningful actions to liberate Palestine. They have engaged in battles which had tactical aims, but never the end of Israel’s occupation. Muslim rulers’ portrayal as defenders of the Palestinian cause is a façade:
- The 1956 Suez Canal crisis was never a war for the liberation of Palestine but rather a struggle between America and Britain for control over the strategically important Canal.
- The 1967 six day war and the treachery of the Muslim rulers can be encapsulated by one famous incident. The Syrian troops occupying the Golan Heights heard news of Israel’s capture of the Heights through their own State radio despite the Syrian troops clearly occupying them.
- The October 1973 War launched by Egypt and Syria against Israel had limited aims which never included the liberation of Palestine. Mohammed Heikal the respected editor of Al Ahram from 1957 – 1974, who witnessed the war, explained the extent of Anwar Sadat’s underlying motives in his book ‘The Road to Ramadhan’ where he cites Sadat’s mood in the run up to the war. Heikal quotes one of Sadat’s generals, Mohammed Fouwzi who gave the analogy of a samurai drawing two swords – a long one and short one in preparation for battle. Fouwzi said that this battle would be a case of the short sword, signifying a limited battle for certain motives.