Prelude to Another War in Gaza?

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Middle East In Focus

This week has seen a worrying surge in violence between Israel and Gaza. Claiming it was acting in response to a barrage of missiles coming from the Gaza Strip, the Israeli government has launched a series of air strikes aimed at Hamas and its leadership. The violence has so far claimed a number of innocent lives on both sides of the border, but its highest profile victim is Hamas military leader Ahmed Jabari. Hamas and Islamic Jihad have responded by increasing the number of missiles aimed at Israel, with two of them even reaching Tel Aviv. Meanwhile, the Egyptian President has visited Gaza and offered rhetorical support.

In Israel, many are not convinced that Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu intends to escalate the violence into a serious attempt to destroy Hamas, prefering the status quo and the helpful propaganda bogeyman. Meanwhile, others in the region don’t think this is the right time for Hamas to pick a fight with Israel. Many more sense a political, not military, calculus behind the Israeli government’s decision to escalate its violence against Gaza at a time when the Palestinians have decided to take their case to United Nations.

In Egypt, which shares a border with Gaza, and where the current government comes from the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood (the progenitor of Hamas), there is concern about a possible spillover as well as a sense of solidarity with the Palestinians, which explains the Egyptian Prime Minister’s visit to the Gaza Strip. Meanwhile, according to the Egyptian newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm, “Suez security head Major General Adel Refaat said Thursday security has been intensified at the Ahmed Hamdy tunnel and along the Suez Canal because of the incidents taking place in Gaza. Refaat said that the Armed Forces and police are coordinating to ensure stability, adding that security leaders have inspected the patrols.”

Reflecting on the timing of the attacks in an op-ed for the Palestinian daily Maan News, Jerry Haber suggests that it is was an open secret that “Israel would wait until after the American elections to launch some act of military aggression, and it was clear, to me, at least, that it would not be directed against Iran, Syria, or Lebanon. It seems likely that Israel had decided to conduct an operation in Gaza before the first rocket was fired from Gaza….Since the disengagement — or more accurately, the ‘redeployment’ — Israel has effectively controlled Gaza. It has allowed Hamas to wax and wane, at its pleasure, and when it thinks the timing is ripe, it strikes…. The only thing that will restrain Israel is world-wide, and especially U.S. and European, condemnation.”

In Israel, there are very few those who think the Netanyahu government is prepared to initiate an all-out war against Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza. One of these skeptics is Jonathan Rosen, who, in an op-ed for the Jerusalem Post, argues “anyone who looks past this government’s public rhetoric, media spin and even this exceptional strike to examine closely its four year track record closely will have a hard time finding any indication that it genuinely intends to take significant action to change the situation in and around Gaza. On the contrary, it seems plainly evident that Netanyahu and his fellow decision-makers have been content with the status quo….this government’s policies vis-à-vis Hamas-controlled Gaza prove those claims to be empty rhetoric or, in blunter terms, a pack of lies. Even after the Jabari assassination, the facts, after all, tell a starkly different story.”

The Jerusalem Post editorial also gives one the sense that there are doubts about the Israeli government’s commitment to remove Hamas from Gaza, especially since Hamas is a useful propaganda tool. Still, the editorial suggests that if a military operation is launched at all, “Israel should make an effort to explain itself to the international community…. the latest round of escalation has convinced many — including senior members of the present government and the military establishment — that Israel must restore deterrence by ratcheting up its response to Palestinian belligerence…. Before such an operation is launched — if it is launched at all — Israel should make an effort to explain itself to the international community. World opinion might be stacked against Israel, but we must not give up hope.”

Others in the region are concerned that, even if Hamas’ attacks on Israel were justified, the timing of these attacks couldn’t have been worse. As Lebanon’s The Daily Star points out, coming only two weeks before the Palestinians make their case before the United Nations for non-member state status, the attacks are likely to cause more harm than do any good: “If the rocket fire was all the work of Hamas, there is the question of why they were fired in the first place….Hamas and other Palestinian groups must realize that ever since the wave of popular uprisings has rocked the Arab world, focusing attention in other directions, nothing significant has changed in their military equation with the Jewish state. The tactical value of taking on Israel while the Palestinians are trying to secure observer state status at the United Nations, and divided in the first place between Hamas and the PA, is practically nil.”

There is no question in most peoples’ minds, however, that, however they are justified, Israeli attacks on innocent Palestinian civilians must stop. The Gulf News editorial for example has grown weary of Israeli government’s justifications for escalating the conflict against Hamas and calls on the international community to pressure Israel: “For Israel to claim that its campaign against Hamas was in ‘retaliation’ for rocket strikes is unoriginal. It began on November 8 following an unprovoked Israeli incursion into Gaza, which led to the killing of a Palestinian child. When Palestinian fighters retaliated with home-made rockets, Israel launched attacks that killed five more Palestinians, including two young boys playing football….All this comes at a time when the region is already on fire….The onus is now on the Arab world and the international community to urge Israel to immediately halt its brutal campaign against Gaza.”

Unfortunately, for most people in Gaza there is no respite. Whether Israel decides to continue the assault or not, they still face bleak conditions under the stifling Israeli blockade.  As a firsthand account written by Rania Elhilou and published on the pages of The National points out, “Gaza has been suffering from power cuts and fuel shortages for most of the year….Since Israel’s blockade of the region began, Gaza has experienced turmoil and challenges that sap our resources and severely test our perseverance — from the lack of clean water to a dilapidated, crumbling infrastructure, not to mention absence of access to outside markets to sell our goods to provide for our families. Add to that the recent fuel shortages and power cuts that affect some 1.6 million Palestinians….The lights are dim these days in Gaza. Maybe that makes it harder for the international community to focus on the harsh reality we are living.”

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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: Comments and feedback are welcome at

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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