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Israel’s ‘Protective Edge’: Why Now?

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Fadi Elhusseini

Fadi Elhusseini

By Fadi Elhusseini

The new Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip is not the first and won’t be the last if the political equation in that region does not change. Throughout previous aggressions Israel launched on the Gaza strip, several military goals were declared. This time, the “Protective Edge” operation comes in a different context, with new domestic, regional and international circumstances. These conditions are more prosaic and complex, and have been key elements in determining Israel’s goals as part of a larger strategy that goes beyond the war itself.

A clear change in the map of World Politics underlines a rising Russian role. With Russia’s stance in the Syrian crisis and the evident US and EU bewilderment toward Ukraine and the Crimea, the political weight of Russia as the US’ influences fade cannot be overlooked anymore.

China has revised its position and role in the Middle East, opting to stay away from the limelight whilst maintaining its interests in a quieter way. This was seen as 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 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, for which Israel has been blamed. There has also been a renewed wave of violence in the West Bank, starting with the deaths of three Israeli settlers followed by the death of a Palestinian teen.

Israel had constantly asked the Palestinian Authority (PA) to choose between reconciliation with Hamas and peace with Israel. For this reason, Israel could not hide its anger from the Palestinian reconciliation and the unity government, threatening the moderate Palestinian authority with serious circumstances. With Israel’s exaggerated stance against the PA, its closest allies called upon it to put the new Palestinian government to the test and give it a chance.

In light of the noticeable decay in Israel’s popularity, living in international solitude, its frustration folded with the international position, especially of the US, who welcomed the Palestinian unity government. It would not be bizarre to see Israel’s leaders accusing the PA of isolating Israel internationally.

In this vein, the Palestinian leadership has recently succeeded in building bridges of trust with peoples and governments around the world. The international community has become closer to the Palestinian peace narrative from that of Israel. International campaigns to boycott Israeli institutions and products expanded to include civil societies, universities and official positions.

A decision by the Israeli government to seek a way out of its domestic and international dilemmas becomes unimpeachable. Intriguingly, any internal cohesion depends mainly on a sense of fear from an external threat. 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 are anti-Iran sentiments in Israel and considerable popular support for a military strike on Iran, polls show a lukewarm response to the Sisyphean task of attacking Iran unilaterally. What about the Northern Front?

Hezbollah – In spite of the insomnia caused by Hezbollah to Israel’s leaders, they are fully aware of the strategic, logistic and military capabilities Hezbollah enjoys. Israeli leaders are also aware of Hezbollah’s Syrian venture, and losses they received there have not exhausted Hezbollah enough to evade any surprises. But, what about the Southern Front?

Palestine – Whether the story claiming Israel ‘fabricated’ the killing of the three settlers (according to this story, the three settlers died in a car accident in Israel, the government hiding their deaths for use later to corner the PA 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 killing the settlers, although Hamas has not claimed responsibility.

Israel decided to transfer the battle to the Gaza Strip, aiming at involving Hamas (at the helm of Gaza’s resistance) 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, gradually developing to strike almost every spot in the Gaza Strip. The required confrontation aims to drag Hamas and 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. They also worked 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 stance of Israel, the rockets fired from Gaza brought them back to the Israeli side, announcing that Israel has the right to defend itself. This came regardless of the excessive use of force and the horrifying death toll among the Palestinians.

Not limited to these gains, Operation “Protective Edge” gave the Palestinian government  a heavy blow. Any plans of this new government to implement 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, increasing 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. This comes 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 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. It is obvious that neither Hamas nor the disgruntled and weary people in Gaza would accept to return to the bygone detestable era.

Fadi Elhusseini is a Political and Media Counselor in Turkey. He is an associate research fellow (ESRC) at the Institute for Middle East Studies-Canada and a doctoral candidate at the University of Sunderland in Britain.


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