Opinion

Why does Israel want to bomb Gaza?

STANLY JOHNY | Updated on March 12, 2018 Published on July 15, 2014

The excuses offered by the Jewish nation do not stand the test of logic and justice

Israel has done it again. On July 7, amid rising tensions, it attacked Gaza, a tiny strip of land on the eastern Mediterranean coast where 1.8 million Palestinians reside.

The strip, ruled by Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, has seen several Israeli attacks in the past decade, with the 2008-09 invasion being the bloodiest. Israel calls Hamas a terrorist outfit, and justifies its attacks saying it’s “defending itself”.

The current crisis is not different from past ones. Relations between Israel and Palestinians have been particularly tense since May after two Palestinian boys were shot dead by Israeli troops during clashes outside the occupied the West Bank city of Ramalla.

The subsequent murder of three Israeli teenagers, kidnapped from the West Bank, exacerbated the situation. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately blamed Hamas for killing the youth, and ordered a massive crackdown.

This was followed by the burning alive of a 16-year-old Palestinian by extremist Jews that set both Israel and Palestine aflame. Outraged, Hamas started firing rockets into Israel from Gaza. In return, Israel launched the air strike.

As in the past, Israel is punishing the people of Gaza for what it calls terrorism by Hamas. Israel’s week-long bombing has already killed nearly 200 people — 80 per cent of them civilians, according to UN estimates —, injured more than 1,400 and displaced over 5,600. On the other side, not a single casualty is reported from Israel despite Hamas firing around 1,000 rockets.

Beyond Hamas

Israel has not provided any substantial evidence to suggest that Hamas was behind the murder of the three teenagers. The culprits are still at large. Hamas, which usually claims responsibility for its actions, has denied involvement in the incident.

The only thing that’s certain now is that Israel has used the incident as a pretext to bomb Gaza. Even if Hamas is involved in the killing of those three youth, what is Israel going to achieve from this pounding of Gaza?

The stated goal is to stop Hamas’ rocket-firing. But at least two arguments make it hard to believe that Israel has launched an attack of this proportion to dismantle Hamas’ firing capability. First, Hamas has long lost the strategic edge in its rockets. It is firing mostly locally-made rockets that can at best reach 160 km into Israel and cause minor damage. After Israel started deploying the Iron Dome anti-missile system, most of Hamas’ rockets have been neutralised in the airs. In other words, Hamas’ rockets are hardly a security threat for Israel.

Second, Hamas fires rockets from mobile launchers. The rocket wing of Hamas moves across Gaza and fires the weapons from different locations. It’s nearly impossible to dismantle this rocket infrastructure completely by air power.

Israel learnt this lesson from its 34-day invasion of Lebanon in 2006, when it launched an offensive to destroy Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah’s military power. On the 34th day of the war on Lebanon, Hezbollah fired more than 200 rockets into northern Israel.

Similarly, in 2008 December, Israel launched Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, including air and ground attack, with the goal of stopping Hamas’ rocket-fire. The attack lasted three weeks, killed nearly 1,500 Palestinians and led to widespread international condemnation. But it barely stopped the rockets from Gaza.

Three factors

So there are reasons to believe that the present conflict is beyond rockets. At least three factors help us understand the crisis better — Israel’s desire to shape Palestinian politics, the rightwing ideology of the present Israeli government to find a military solution to the Palestine question rather than seek a peaceful settlement, and its strategic calculation that this is the right time to hit Hamas as the resistance group is more or less isolated.

Hamas and the Fatah party that rules the West Bank (both regions make up the promised Palestinian nation) had reached a reconciliation agreement in April, based on which a unity government was formed in early June. The move was expected to pave the way to elect a new Palestinian president and parliament. The political process in Palestine has been suspended for years amid rivalry between Hamas and Fatah. Israel had immediately rejected the consensus government, saying it would not negotiate with any Hamas-affiliated dispensation.

What Israel fears most is not Hamas’s rockets, but Palestinian unity, because if Fatah and Hamas really reconcile, that’s a big step towards the third intifada (uprising) against the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. Israel wanted to abort any possibility of a mass movement, and it would rather stick to its “Hamas-as-terrorists” narrative.

Second, Netanyahu is not a pragmatist. He’s an ideologue who believes in Israel’s military might. He and his rightwing backers in the government have hardly been serious about attaining peace with Palestinians. The rightwing Jewish politicians now seem to be convinced that they can manage the Palestinian movement militarily forever. This explains Israel’s incursions into Gaza, including the present one.

Third, Israel knows it can get away with the killings as Hamas lacks any major backer in the Arab world. After Jordan expelled Hamas’s political leaders from Amman following its peace treaty with Israel, Syria had allowed them to run their political bureau from Damascus. But when civil strife broke out in Syria, Hamas moved to Qatar, thereby losing a strong Arab ally.

In neighbouring Egypt, the new government of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi considers Hamas a terrorist outfit. Saudi Arabia, another regional Arab heavyweight, is also opposed to Hamas because of its affiliation to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. It is friendless, indeed. Israel grabbed the opportunity to hit Hamas hard.

Degradation of life

The responses Israel’s attack generated show that the Jewish nation still enjoys the support of its powerful backers in the West. In the eight days of its bombing, Israel did not come under any real international pressure to stop its campaign. Even the Arab League remained silent in the first six days. The UN Security Council issued a statement on July 12, but did not hold Israel responsible for the loss of lives. Egypt proposed a ceasefire on July 15, but it has kept Hamas completely out of the talks. That itself made any attempt to attain truce, weak.

No ceasefire will hold for long unless the fundamental problems in the Israeli-Palestinian crisis are addressed. The inability of the international community to hold the perpetrators of rights violations responsible for their actions and its apathy towards Palestinian suffering have created a situation where cyclical violence dictates the rules of the game.

The end result, as Mouin Rabbani, a senior fellow at the Institute for Palestine Studies, puts it, is the “institutionalised degradation of Palestinian life”. How long it will continue is the question.

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Published on July 15, 2014
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