Israel’s Protective Edge: Why Now?
By: Fadi Elhusseini
A new Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip, not the first and won’t be the last if the political equation in that region does not change. Throughout the previous aggressions Israel launched on the Gaza strip, several military goals were declared. This time, “Protective Edge” operation comes in a different context, with new domestic, regional and international circumstances. These conditions, by and large, are more prosaic and complex that have been key elements in determining Israel’s goals from this operation, as part of a larger strategy that goes beyond the war itself.
A clear change in the map of World Politics underlined a rising Russian role. With Russia’s fundamental stance in the Syrian crisis and the evident US and EU bewilderment toward the issue of Ukraine and Crimea, the political weight of Russia can be barely overlooked anymore and the fading US influence has become a fact.
China has revised its position and role in the Middle East and opted to stay away from the limelight, maintaining at the same time its interests but with lower voice. This was seen the best way to stop its depleted popularity in the region in the aftermath of its obvious position supporting the Syrian regime.
Regionally, this war comes when the events of the Arab Spring continue to surprise all observers. The fall of the Muslim Brotherhood, coercively in Egypt and voluntarily in Tunisia, the escalated crisis in Syria, the unprecedented chaos in Iraq, Yemen and Libya are a case in point. On the other hand, Iran managed to defuse some of the international pressure and has been successful in reviving and preserving the diplomatic track of its nuclear file.
In Israel, a volatile coalition has been facing mounting domestic criticism. Several domestic travails and economic difficulties made many Israeli intellectuals and politicians to call repeatedly for dissolving the current government. In Palestine, the aggression on the Gaza Strip comes shortly after the long awaited national reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, a new deadlock in the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations (Israel has been widely blamed for this stalemate), and a wave of violence in the West Bank, started with the incident of killing three Israeli settlers and followed by the murder of a Palestinian teen in cold blood.
Israel had constantly asked the Palestinian authority to choose between reconciliation with Hamas and peace with Israel. For this reason, Israel could not hide its irksome from the Palestinian reconciliation and the unity government, threatening the moderate Palestinian authority of serious circumstances. With Israel’s exaggerated stance against the Palestinian authority, its closest allies called upon Israel to put the Palestinian new government to the test and to give it a chance.
In light of the noticeable decay in Israel’s popularity, living day after day in an international solitude, its frustration folded with the international position, especially the American, who welcomed the Palestinian unity government. Hence, it would not be bizarre to see Israel’s leaders accusing the Palestinian authority of isolating Israel internationally.
In this vein, one should concede that the Palestinian leadership has succeeded recently in building bridges of trust with both the people and the governments around the world. The international community has become closer to the Palestinian narrative on peace from that one of Israel and international campaigns to boycott Israeli institutions and products expanded to include civil societies, universities and official positions.
Considering the above, a decision by the Israeli government to seek a way out of its domestic crisis and international dilemma becomes unimpeachable. Intriguingly, any internal cohesion (home front) depends mainly on a sense of fear from an external threat and, hence, making up an external crisis is not a novel strategy by decision makers; but what would be the destination in this chaotic region and critical time?
Iran; although there is a wide anti-Iran sentiments in Israel and a considerable popular support for a military strike on Iran, polls showed Israeli’s lukewarm to the Sisyphean task of attacking Iran unilaterally. What about the Northern Front?
Hezbollah; in spite of the sizable insomnia caused by Hezbollah to Israel’s leaders, they are fully aware of the strategic, logistic and military capabilities Hezbollah enjoys. More so, Israeli leaders are also aware the Hezbollah’s venture in Syria and the losses they received there have not exhausted Hezbollah enough to evade any surprises; But, what about the Southern Front?
Palestine; Whether the story claiming that Israel ‘fabricated’ the killing of the three settlers (according to this story, the three settlers died in a car accident in Israel and the government hid their death in order to use it later to corner the Palestinian Authority and Hamas) is accurate or not, Israel was interested in picking a fight with the Palestinians. Since the Palestinian side is the weakest link, the Israeli decision maker is circumspect that any escalation and bloodletting would neither bring huge damage and losses nor wide attention, considering the bloody regional conditions and international chaos.
Israel has blamed Hamas for concocting the killing of the Israeli settlers (Hamas did not claim responsibility, when it usually does). However, Israeli settlers did not give the Israeli government the time to benefit from this incident when a number of settlers burned a Palestinian teen alive.
Hence, Israel decided to transfer the battle to the Gaza Strip, aiming at involving Hamas (at the helm of resistance in Gaza) officially in a confrontation that does not intend, of course, to end Hamas. One may notice the sequence of Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip; targeting unpopulated open areas at first and gradually developed to strike almost every spot in the Gaza Strip. The required confrontation- whose goals were not outright said- aims to drag Hamas and the other groups to react and fire more rockets at Israeli towns.
Fully aware of the limited losses from the Palestinian rockets, the Israeli government succeeded, despite some criticism, to huddle together its people against the threat coming from the Gaza Strip and to distract the attention away from any domestic problems or diplomatic or international crises.
Gains have not stopped at the domestic level. With every rocket fired from Gaza, the Israeli government gets closer to other goals. The US, French and other international positions were just a case in point. Tellingly, whereas most of the actors in the international community started to accept the Palestinian position and reprimand the adamant stands of Israel- who became a quasi-loner state, the rockets fired from Gaza brought them back to the Israeli barn, announcing that Israel has the right to defend itself, regardless of the excessive use of force and the horrifying death toll among the Palestinians.
Not limited to these gains, “Protective Edge” operation gave the Palestinian new unity government that bothered Israel, a heavy blow. Any plans of this new government to implement the reconciliation and to prepare for national elections have gone unheeded as the priorities have changed by the provisions of a fait accompli. Also, Israel bet- as it has always done- on the contradictory positions among the Palestinians on how to deal with such aggression, which would increase the chances for setback in the reconciliation.
The only military goal Protective edge would achieve is debilitating and draining the capabilities of the Palestinian resistance groups in light of the limited stock of weapons and the continuity of the siege and closed tunnels between Gaza and Egypt.
Thus, Israel would accept/ accepted the cease-fire, without any further conditions. Unexpectedly, Hamas refused the Egyptian cease-fire initiative, taking the Israeli government to unplanned scenarios- a ground operation. The longer the operation lasts and the more losses Israel receives, the more likely that Israel would seek new terms and amendments on the 2012 truce so that it can be adduced in Israeli street.
As per Hamas and the Palestinian resistance, they will not accept languishing in the besieged Gaza strip anymore and thus will not consent to the terms of the 2012 truce. Finding a port to the outside world has become sine qua non- either through the Rafah border, or a sea port or even an airport. It is obvious that neither Hamas nor the disgruntled and weary people in Gaza would accept to return to the bygone detestable era.