“ … no one had been killed by the rocket barrages after the official end of the cease-fire [with Hamas]. This doesn’t mean the situation is possible to live with, but it appears the hysterical reaction by the public as a whole and politicians in particular stems mainly from the fact that the country is in an election period. And when elections are in the offing people speak from the gut rather than the brain and demagoguery is rampant.”
– Yoel Marcus, writing in Haaretz, 23 Dec. 2008.
As hopes for a renewed ceasefire between Hamas and Israel fade—assuming the latter’s blockade of food, medicine, fuel and other humanitarian assistance to Gaza did not itself constitute a violation many months ago—reports indicate the government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is increasingly preparing for an invasion of the Strip. According to the AP citing anonymous defense officials, were it not for inclement weather, airstrikes would have already taken place followed by a land offensive.
In light of the looming assault, Marcus titled his editorial: “Have politicians pushing for Gaza war forgotten Lebanon debacle?”
Indeed, there is little doubt the central role both election-year politics and the July 2006 Lebanon war will play in any military decisions.
The main contenders for Israel’s February 2009 election to succeed the resigning Olmert are Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu and the country’s current foreign minister, Tzipi Livni of Kadima. As in years past, the yardstick by which all candidates in Israeli elections are measured is their security (re: war) credentials. Extreme right figures such as Netanyahu need not burnish theirs though, for they have spent a lifetime, and made a career out of, warmongering.
Of equal danger are those whose résumé is a bit thinner, such as Livni’s, for they must prove they too can flaunt international law, expropriate land, dismiss as self-inflicted the suffering and hardships of an occupied people, and more importantly, shed Palestinian blood. What better testing ground than Gaza?
The question posed in Marcus’ title is a reasonable one to ask for Israel’s attempt to destroy Hezbollah in the summer of 2006 was a colossal blunder and complete failure. Not only was Hezbollah able to withstand the Israeli onslaught and emerge more popular in the Arab world than ever before, just as damaging was the mythical image of the invincible Israeli military left in tatters.
Olmert, for one, has decidedly not forgotten the Lebanon fiasco. In fact, he remembers it all too well. And this is the second reason for a possible Gaza attack: a tarnished reputation that must be salvaged.
He will seize on an opportunity to correct the missteps of 2006 and restore the standing of Israel’s armed forces—and himself—inside and outside the country.
Olmert believes the circumstances this time are different. First, Hamas is far less organized, disciplined, and militarily capable than Hezbollah. Second, Gaza has been sufficiently ‘softened up’ after months under siege and its population deprived of food, medicine and fuel. As an added bonus, he is ensured of the full support of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
Livni was recently in Cairo for talks with Mubarak under the pretense of discussing renewal of the ceasefire agreement. After Mubarak’s half-hearted call for one was rebuffed, he politely asked Israel to show “restraint” in dealing with Gaza. Normally an Arab leader would be loathe to meet with such a high-level representative of the Israeli government due to the criminal embargo imposed on the tiny territory, let alone be so deferential in language. But Egypt has not only been complicit in the siege by keeping its Rafah border crossing with Gaza closed, they apparently also have given Israel the green light to invade.
As reported on Dec. 24 in the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi, Egyptian Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman met last week with the head of the Israeli Defense Ministry’s Bureau of Diplomatic- Security, Amos Gilad. Suleiman told Gilad that Egypt would not be opposed to a limited Israeli incursion into Gaza with the aim of toppling Hamas.
So the stage is set.
Leadership credentials will be built on spilling Palestinian blood. The image of the mighty Israel Defense Forces will be rehabilitated, albeit against a besieged and starving population. Egypt, along with the Arab monarchies, will watch approvingly from the sidelines. And the remarkable ability of the human spirit to resist foreign invasion and occupation will again, in the end, triumph.
RANNIE AMIRI is an independent commentator on the Arab and Islamic worlds. He may be reached at: rbamiri at yahoo dot com.