Phyllis Bennis: Why Israel Escalates Gaza Attack
tion> Escalates Gaza Attack With Assassination
Phyllis Bennis <http://www.thenation.com/authors/phyllis-bennis> ,
The Nation: November 14, 2012
Yesterday's Egyptian-brokered cease-fire between Gaza and Israel collapsed
today when Israel launched a major escalation. In airstrikes almost
certainly involving US-made F-16 warplanes and/or US-made Apache
helicopters, Israel's air force assassinated Ahmad Jaabari, the longtime
military leader of Hamas. As the Israeli airstrikes continued today, seven
more Palestinians were killed and at least thirty were injured, ten of them
Jaabari had been chief negotiator with Israel in the deal that led to the
release of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in exchange for the release
of more than 1,000 Palestinian political prisoners held illegally in Israeli
jails. He had negotiated the cease-fire that had mostly held over much of
the last year or more. The attack, code-named "Operation Pillar of Defense"
[sic], also killed someone else in Jaabari's car, and quickly expanded with
additional airstrikes against Palestinian security and police stations in
Gaza, making it impossible for Palestinian police to try to control the
So why the escalation? Israeli military and political leaders have long made
clear that regular military attacks to "cleanse" Palestinian territories
(the term was used by Israeli soldiers to describe their role in the 2008-09
Israeli assault on Gaza) is part of their long-term strategic plan. Earlier
this year, on the third anniversary of the Gaza assault, Israeli army Chief
of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz told Army Radio that Israel will need to
attack Gaza again soon, to restore what he called its power of "deterrence."
He said the assault must be "swift and painful," concluding, "we will act
when the conditions are right." Perhaps this was his chosen moment.
It is an interesting historical parallel that this escalation-which almost
certainly portends a longer-term and even more lethal Israeli assault-takes
place almost exactly four years after Operation Cast Lead, the last major
Israeli war on Gaza, which left 1,400 Gazans dead in 2008-09. Then, as now,
the attack came shortly after the US presidential elections, ending just
before President Obama's January 2009 inauguration.
But the timing for this escalation is almost certainly shaped more by
Israel's domestic politics than by the US election cycle. The most likely
timeline is grounded in Netanyahu's political calendar-he faces re-election
in January, and having thoroughly antagonized many Israelis by his
deliberate dissing of President Obama, needs to shore up the far-right
contingent of his base. With regional pressures escalating, particularly
regarding the expanding Syrian crisis, Netanyahu needs to reassure his
far-right supporters (an increasing cohort) that even if he doesn't send
bombers to attack Damascus, he still can attack, bomb, assassinate Arabs
There is a US connection, of course-however much domestic politics motivated
Tel Aviv's attack, Israel's backers in Congress (lame-duck and newly
elected) will still demand public US support for the Israeli offensive.
Netanyahu will get that backing-there is no reason to think the Obama White
House is prepared yet to challenge that assumption. But it's unlikely that
even Netanyanu believes it will somehow recalibrate his tense relationship
with US by forcing Washington's hand to defend Israel's so-called "right of
self-defense." They will do that-but Obama will still be pretty pissed off
As is always the case, history is shaped by when you start the clock. In the
last several days, US media accounts have reported increasing violence on
the Gaza-Israel border, most of them beginning with a Palestinian attack on
Israeli soldiers on Thursday, November 8. What happened before that
For starters, the soldiers, part of an Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) squad
that included four tanks and a bulldozer, were inside the Gaza Strip.
According to the IDF spokeswoman, Palestinians fired at "soldiers while they
were performing routine activity adjacent to the security fence." Really.
What kind of activities inside the supposedly not-occupied Gaza Strip, by a
group of armed soldiers, tanks and a bulldozer (almost certainly an armored
Caterpillar D-9 bulldozer manufactured in the United States and paid for
with US taxpayer military aid to Israel), could possibly be defined as
anything close to "routine"? Unlike the illegal Palestinian rockets fired
against civilian targets inside Israel, using force to resist an illegal
military force in the context of a belligerent military occupation is lawful
under international law.
Later that day, an 11-year-old child was killed. Israel was "investigating
the boy's death." Not many US media outlets reported that within the next
seventy-two hours the Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights
documented five more Palestinians killed, including three children, and
fifty-two other civilians, including six women and twelve children, wounded
in Israeli airstrikes. Four of the deaths and thirty-eight injuries resulted
from a single Israeli attack on a football playground in a neighborhood east
of Gaza city. Twelve Israelis, four of them soldiers, were injured by
Palestinian rockets fired into Israel.
The cross-border clashes continued, until Egypt was able to negotiate a
ceasefire on Wednesday. Today, that fragile ceasefire was violently breached
as Israel sent warplanes to assassinate a Hamas leader and destroy key parts
of Gaza's barely functional infrastructure.
This is primarily about Netanyanu shoring up the right wing of his base. And
once again it is Palestinians, this time Gazans, who will pay the price. The
question that remains is whether the US-assured impunity that Israel's
leadership has so long counted on will continue, or whether there will be
enough pressure on the Obama administration and Congress so that this time,
the United States will finally be forced to allow the international
community to hold Israel accountable for this latest round of violations of
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