Gaza ablaze again

The Pak Banker - - Front Page -

LAST week I had writ­ten that by talk­ing of re­nounc­ing the “right of re­turn” of the Pales­tinian refugees Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas of Pales­tine had cre­ated an open­ing for the re­sump­tion of Is­rael-Pales­tine peace talks and that Pres­i­dent Barack Obama in his sec­ond and last term would have the flex­i­bil­ity and po­lit­i­cal strength to press Is­rael to con­clude these talks suc­cess­fully.

This was per­haps overly op­ti­mistic given the strong neg­a­tive re­ac­tion that Pres­i­dent Ab­bas’ state­ment prompted, par­tic­u­larly in Ha­mas-ruled Gaza, and the al­most deathly si­lence about this de­vel­op­ment in Wash­ing­ton and other Western cap­i­tals.

Now, how­ever, the world’s at­ten­tion is fo­cused not on the pos­si­bil­ity of the re­sump­tion of peace talks but on pre­vent­ing the threat­ened Is­raeli phys­i­cal in­va­sion of Gaza for which it has called up 70,000 re­servists. Heavy ar­mour and troops have al­ready been as­sem­bled on the Gaza-Is­rael bor­der.

How this rapid de­te­ri­o­ra­tion hap­pened, along what has al­ways been a tense fron­tier, is in a sense im­ma­te­rial. The Pales­tini­ans claim that they in­ten­si­fied the fir­ing of rock­ets into Is­rael only af­ter Is­rael tar­geted and killed Ahmed al-Jabari, the top Ha­mas mil­i­tary leader, on Nov 14.

There is some sup­port for this claim found in the state­ment of Gaza Prime Min­is­ter Is­mail Haniyeh on Nov 13 when he praised Gaza mil­i­tant groups for ac­cept­ing the truce that was worked out af­ter there had been mil­i­tary ac­tiv­ity prompted by the killing of a men­tally chal­lenged Pales­tinian near Gaza’s bor­der fence with Is­rael on Nov 4. The Is­raelis have a very dif­fer­ent nar­ra­tive.

What is im­por­tant is that more than 100 peo­ple have been killed in Gaza, a num­ber of them chil­dren. Al­most 900 have been wounded. On the other side, a few Is­raelis have been killed and less than 100 injured.

Much has been made of the fact that Ha­mas and Is­lamic Ji­had in Gaza now have long-range rock­ets that can tar­get Tel Aviv and other pop­u­la­tion cen­tres in Is­rael. Yet the truth of the mat­ter is that not one of the ap­prox­i­mately 830 rock­ets fired from Gaza has caused any sub­stan­tial dam­age.

Is­rael’s Iron Dome anti mis­sile de­fence has knocked out most of the rock­ets fired. Is­raeli at­tacks have de­stroyed much of the rocket-build­ing ca­pa­bil­ity in Gaza and have ex­panded the tar­get of 200 daily sor­ties to cover such civil­ian tar­gets as Prime Min­is­ter Haniyeh’s of­fice and the cen­tral po­lice sta­tion. The al­ready poor in­fra­struc­ture in Gaza has been pul­verised fur­ther.

These ra­tios sug­gest what has been ev­i­dent all along: Gaza’s fight­ers, no mat­ter how coura­geous, are no match for the over­whelm­ing mil­i­tary strength that Is­rael can and has brought to bear. They may have ac­quired new ca­pa­bil­i­ties — though an Egyp­tian ad­viser to Pres­i­dent Mo­hamed Morsi was prob­a­bly right when he termed the Gaza rock­ets as prim­i­tive pro­jec­tiles — but the Is­raelis are far ahead in build­ing de­fences. A new mis­sile de­fence sys­tem to sup­ple­ment the Iron Dome sys­tem al­ready in place will be op­er­a­tional by 2015. For Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu, his hard-line party and his coali­tion part­ners this has been an op­por­tu­nity to bol­ster sup­port in the forth­com­ing elec­tions.

The op­po­si­tion has had to sup­port the es­ca­la­tion of Is­raeli at­tacks and the call­ing up of re­servists for an in­va­sion of Gaza to du­pli­cate the three-week in­va­sion of 2008-09, Op­er­a­tion Cast Lead, in which some 1,400 Pales­tini­ans and 13 Is­raelis lost their lives. The Haaretz news­pa­per in Is­rael has quoted In­te­rior Min­is­ter Eli Yishai as say­ing that the “goal of the op­er­a­tion is to send Gaza back to the Mid­dle Ages”. If the present rate of sor­ties con­tin­ues, this may well be within Is­rael’s reach even with­out send­ing Is­raeli troops into Gaza.

Cer­tainly at this time a mood has been cre­ated in Is­rael where the voices of moder­a­tion have been si­lenced and sup­port seems to ex­ist for do­ing what­ever is nec­es­sary, in­clud­ing put- ting boots on the ground, to de­stroy Gaza’s mis­sile-launch­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

If there is to be a ces­sa­tion of the vi­o­lence it can only come from in­ter­na­tional in­ter­ven­tion. The British have warned Is­rael that it would lose in­ter­na­tional sup­port if it were to in­vade Gaza. Pres­i­dent Obama’s ad­min­is­tra­tion has en­dorsed Is­rael’s right to use what­ever means it chooses to de­fend its peo­ple against rocket at­tacks but has also been pres­sur­ing Is­rael pri­vately to work out a cease­fire and to de­sist from plans to in­vade Gaza.

Egypt, be­cause of its treaty re­la­tions with Is­rael and the the­o­ret­i­cally close ties its new gov­ern­ment en­joys with the Ha­mas lead­er­ship in Gaza, has been called upon to play a me­di­a­tory role. An Is­raeli en­voy has ap­par­ently been in Cairo since Sun­day and the UN sec­re­tary gen­eral is also in Cairo.

Re­ports sug­gest that the Is­raeli cab­i­net has re­ceived and is con­sid­er­ing a pro­posal from Cairo for a truce. Other re­ports sug­gest that this pro­posal has emerged af­ter Egypt’s con­sul­ta­tion with Khaled Mashal, the Ha­mas leader who is also in Cairo. If so, it is likely to con­tain the con­di­tions that Mashal spelt out in his press con­fer­ence in Cairo on Mon­day — a ces­sa­tion of Is­raeli at­tacks and a lift­ing of the block­ade that Is­rael has im­posed on Gaza since 2007.

Will this be ac­cept­able to Is­rael? It is dif­fi­cult to say. Some Is­raelis have ar­gued that Is­rael’s prin­ci­pal ob­jec­tive of de­grad­ing the mil­i­tary ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the Gaza mil­i­tant groups has been achieved and Is­rael should de­sist if only to avoid in­ter­na­tional op­pro­brium at a time when Pres­i­dent Ab­bas is press­ing ahead with his plan for UN recog­ni­tion of a Pales­tinian state. On the other hand, Is­rael’s lead­ers may well ar­gue that on the eve of elec­tions ac­cept­ing such con­di­tions would be a sign of weak­ness that would not go down well with the vot­ers.

There is no cer­tainty about what will come next. What is cer­tain is that even if a cease­fire does hap­pen, se­vere dam­age will have been done to re­la­tions be­tween the trans­formed Arab world and the Western sup­port­ers of Is­rael. There will be fur­ther harm when Ab­bas presses ahead with his bid for UN recog­ni­tion on Nov 29. Is­rael will op­pose this ve­he­mently and will have the sup­port of the US and some if not all of the Western camp. The prospects for peace or even for re­sump­tion of di­a­logue ap­pear dim.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Pakistan

© PressReader. All rights reserved.