Monday, December 29, 2008

Israel's current attacks on Gaza

A new round of violence between Israel and the Palestinians is under way. There are a lot of Americans who seem to have the idea that Israel is some kind of model for not only national defense but for dealing with terrorism. Yet 41 years after taking the West Bank and Gaza, this is where they are. And no permanent peace in sight.

Below are links to several articles providing news and background analysis.

It's especially interesting to note the Haaretz articles. Haaretz is a liberal Israeli newspaper. And the range of opinions you see expressed there is so much greater than what we hear in the American mainstream, it's amazing. Green Greenwald says with reference to the Daniel Levy column in particular, "What's most striking about it is that this scathing criticism of Israel's behavior can - and does - appear in one of Israel's leading newspapers, but not a paragraph of it could ever be uttered by any American politician, in either party, of any national prominence."

The shallowness of the American discussion about Israel and its conflict with the Palestinians is a shame.

Because regardless of the rights or wrongs of the current round of battles, this is a major problem for US foreign policy. Especially since we're very much part of the neighborhood now with the Iraq War.

Irrational or not, the chronic Israel-Palestine conflict is a major issue across the Muslim world and especially in the Middle East. And a major recruiting cause for jihadists. And they tend to see the United States as completely allied with Israel and supportive of all its actions - which was close to true during the Cheney-Bush administration.

Israel threatens escalation in Gaza by Tobias Buck and Harvey Morris Financial Times12/28/08:

After a second consecutive day of air strikes, at least 285 Gazans were dead and medical agencies in the territory said that there were at least 900 wounded, of which 120 were said to be critically injured. ...

Khaled Meshal, political leader of Hamas who lives in exile in Damascus, urged Palestinians to launch a third intifada against Israel, in a reference to uprisings in 1987 and 2000. He told a television station that Hamas’s response would include suicide bombings inside Israel.

Tzipi Livni, Israel’s foreign minister and leader of the governing Kadima party, rejected international appeals to halt the attacks, and urged governments to support Israel. "I don't accept these calls. Hamas is a terror organisation and Israel is a country that is defending its ­citizens. The only possible way to cut the offensive short is to make it clear that Israel has the right to protect itself and that the international community backs Israel."
Latest bloody twist in a cycle of violence by Tobias Buck Financial Times12/28/08:

... on the night of November 4, just as Barack Obama was celebrating his victory in the US presidential elections, Israel launched an operation in Gaza aimed at destroying a tunnel dug by Hamas militants. Officials claimed the tunnel posed an immediate threat, as it was intended to facilitate the abduction of Israeli soldiers and civilians.

The incursion claimed the lives of six Hamas militants, triggering a furious response from the group and resulting in a barrage of rockets from Gaza. It marked the start of an escalating exchange of attacks that soon put paid to any hopes of prolonging the ceasefire.

Both Hamas and Israel repeatedly professed their interest in restoring calm to the border region but the reality on the ground suggested neither side was willing to show restraint over a longer period. The Islamist group – as well as international aid groups – was also angered by Israel’s decision to tighten the economic blockade of the Gaza Strip, which soon resulted in severe shortages of basic supplies such as fuel for Gaza’s only power station.

Hamas finally declared that it would not renew the truce just days before its expiry. Last week, the group and other Gaza-based militants upped the stakes again by firing an unusually large volume of rockets and mortars on Israel, in spite of repeated warnings by the government that an offensive was now only a question of time.
Israeli Attacks Shatter Gaza by Mel Frykberg, Inter Press Service 12/28/08 points to one of the grim parallels to the Israeli offensive in the West Bank in 2002, when Ariel Sharon directed attacks against Palestinian Authority police facilities, attacking the very people who would be required for Palestinian cooperation in anti-terrorism operations:

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak rejected calls by the UN and the EU for a ceasefire, and told the international media that Israel would not rule out widening the offensive to include a ground operation.

"For us to be asked to have a ceasefire with Hamas is like asking you to have a ceasefire with Al-Qaeda," Barak said in an interview with Fox News.

"It's something we cannot really accept. Our intention is to totally change the rules of the game," he added.

Most of those killed and wounded were Hamas military and police personnel. However, dozens of Palestinian civilians are reported to be among the dead. [my emphasis]
Gaza Carnage Sets West Bank Aflame by Mel Frykberg, Inter Press Service 12/28/08:

Following the initial clash, rioting and protests spread spontaneously to all of Gaza and the West Bank, leading to a popular uprising which lasted for several years. This followed years of Palestinian resentment and bitterness towards a brutal Israeli occupation.

Israeli-Arabs, descendents [sic] of the Palestinians, clashed Saturday with Israeli police throughout Israel.

In the Bedouin village of Rahat in the Negev desert, around 400 residents protested the attacks, while mosques throughout the town broadcast prayers of mourning. Many Bedouins, descendants of a nomadic tribe, join the Israeli army, where they are valued for their tracking skills. They are regarded as traitors by fellow Palestinians.

Several hundred left-wing Israelis marched through the streets of Tel Aviv towards the Israeli defence ministry headquarters chanting "No to war, yes to peace".

The left-wing protestors [sic]carried signs saying "Israel's government is committing war crimes", "Negotiation instead of slaughter", and "Lift the siege from Gaza".
Israel's war in Gaza: Stakes and Prospects by Helena Cobban, Just World News 12/28/08:

Israel's continuing assault against Gaza is in many ways linked to the (extremely counter-productive) 33-day war that it maintained against Lebanon and Hizbullah in 2006. There are similarities and differences. In both cases, one of the over-arching war aims has been an attempt to "restore the credibility" of an Israeli military "deterrent" that had been badly eroded - in the minds of many Israeli leaders - since 2000, or before.

That, in a nutshell, is the meaning of the "shock and awe" phrase that's been widely used to describe the completely disproportionate scale of Saturday's opening salvo, which left more than 280 Gazans dead.
Disinformation, secrecy and lies: How the Gaza offensive came about by Barak Ravid 12/28/08:

Sources in the defense establishment said Defense 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. According to the sources, Barak maintained that although the lull would allow Hamas to prepare for a showdown with Israel, the Israeli army needed time to prepare, as well.

Barak gave orders to carry out a comprehensive intelligence-gathering drive which sought to map out Hamas' security infrastructure, along with that of other militant organizations operating in the Strip. ...

The plan of action that was implemented in Operation Cast Lead remained only a blueprint until a month ago, when tensions soared after the IDF carried out an incursion into Gaza during the ceasefire to take out a tunnel which the army said was intended to facilitate an attack by Palestinian militants on IDF troops. [my emphasis]
Gaza: Why Israel and Hamas are trading rocket fire by Joshua Mitnick Christian Science Monitor 12/29/08:

Rather than reoccupy Gaza, a politically unpopular move, Israel may want to simply redefine the terms of engagement along the southern frontier and reach a new cease- fire. "[Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert has been chastened by the Lebanon experience," says Michael Oren, a fellow at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem who authored a book on the 1967 war. "He talked about toppling Hezbollah and disarming Hezbollah. There are far more modest objectives for this operation – an improved status quo ante." ...

In the first wave on Sunday, the Israeli air assault targeted training camps, police stations, and a Hamas intelligence headquarters. Despite the urging of colleagues and opposition politicians, Prime Minister Olmert is not talking about regime change in Gaza.

"The operation in the Gaza Strip is designed, first and foremost, to bring about an improvement in the security reality for the residents of the south of the country," said Olmert over the weekend.
Beyond bombs and rockets in Gaza Christian Science Monitor editorial 12/29/08:

By moving so forcefully in Gaza, Israel appears to be putting immediate concerns ahead of long-term peace prospects. Elections are coming in February, and political leaders undoubtedly feel compelled to prove their security credentials.

But with politics among Palestinians also uncertain (Mr. Abbas's term may expire next month), Hamas, too, has something to prove. It may be looking to Hezbollah and calculating it can win followers' hearts and minds even if it suffers a military setback.
The neighborhood bully strikes again by Gideon Levy Haaretz 12/29/08:

Within the span of a few hours on a Saturday afternoon, the IDF sowed death and destruction on a scale that the Qassam rockets [fired by Hamas against Israel] never approached in all their years, and Operation "Cast Lead" is only in its infancy.

Once again, Israel's violent responses, even if there is justification for them, exceed all proportion and cross every red line of humaneness, morality, international law and wisdom.

What began yesterday in Gaza is a war crime and the foolishness of a country. History's bitter irony: A government that went to a futile war two months after its establishment - today nearly everyone acknowledges as much - embarks on another doomed war two months before the end of its term. ...

Israel did not exhaust the diplomatic processes before embarking yesterday on another dreadful campaign of killing and ruin. The Qassams that rained down on the communities near Gaza turned intolerable, even though they did not sow death. But the response to them needs to be fundamentally different: diplomatic efforts to restore the cease-fire - the same one that was initially breached, one should remember, by Israel when it unnecessarily bombed a tunnel - and then, if those efforts fail, a measured, gradual military response. [my emphasis]
The way out of Gaza by Akiva Eldar Haaretz 12/29/08:

... the Qana disaster of 2006 [during the 2006 Israel-Lebanon War], which killed 56 civilians, brought international pressure on Israel and disrupted the prosecution of the war.

The tremendous population density in the Gaza Strip does not allow a "surgical operation" over an extended period that would minimize damage to civilian populations. The difficult images from the Strip will soon replace those of the damage inflicted by Qassam rockets in the western Negev.

The scale of losses, which works in "favor" of the Palestinians, will return Israel to the role of Goliath. The uncensored images broadcast by Al Jazeera to hundreds of millions of homes in the Arab world do not work to the benefit of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who was photographed several days ago speaking with Livni. A single Qana-like incident would be enough to make the masses of refugees congregate at the Rafah crossing and sabotage the unwritten agreement between Israel and Egypt against Hamas.

Passing the buck to Cairo is liable to have wide-ranging regional implications that do not serve Israel's interest.
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