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Turning Into a Prolonged Engagement?
Netanyahu’s Gaza Quickie
by ROB PRINCE

Unable to – or restrained from – attacking Iran (or getting the United States to do so), Israel had to shoot its military rocks off somewhere else, so it has turned its fire power on Gaza?

As in 2008, Netanyahu and Lieberman waited until after the U.S. presidential elections were over, but before the new administration had been put into place and a clear U.S. policy towards Israel-Palestine in Obama’s second term had been fleshed out.  Did Netanyahu cut a deal with Washington? That is not clear at the moment, although it is implausible that there wasn’t some kind of `consultation’ and green light from Obama.

To think otherwise is to live in la-la land.

It is likely that if Obama did approve Israeli military action it was on a somewhat limited basis with strict `red lines’ that should not be crossed, among them, avoiding any sustained ground attack on Gaza involving a large Israeli Defense Force (IDF) contingent. It is more likely that Obama Administration – enthusiastically or grudgingly – agreed to  a drone-like attack that would limit Israeli casualties and deflect world public opinion.  The idea is to inflict maximum damage on the Palestinians in the shortest amount of time with minimum political and human negative impacts on Israel (and the U.S.A). Still it is possible that Netanyahu, with his visceral antipathy for Obama is taking matters into his own hands, or letting the situation deteriorate so that the logic of war gives the Israeli Prime Minister and his bonkers’ foreign minister, Lieberman, the excuse to change the rules of the game…and invade.

To invade with ground troops or not to invade, that is the question.

One thing seems certain.

This massive (to date) air assault on Gaza was not a spontaneous act. Every step of this offensive was carefully planned, stupid, as are most wars, but carefully planned. The Israeli military is trying to compensate for its two last military incursions: the 2006 Lebanon offensive in which Hezbollah gave an unsuspecting Israeli ground offensive a very bloody nose and the 2008 ground offensive into Gaza, the result of which Israel lost a great deal of public support. Their argument that the war was somehow defensive and that the Israeli army avoided civilian casualties flew in the face of the facts. Israel has yet to recover.

What is missing from all this – the Israeli have yet to learn it – is that military solutions will not solve their crisis with the Palestinians and that try as they might there is no way, none, to put makeup on the ugly face of Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. Whatever happens here, Israel will almost certain gain the upper hand militarily but lose this war politically – as happened in Lebanon in 2006 (where they didn’t even win the fighting) and in Gaza in 2008. There is just no way to bomb their way to peace.

The plan – it is now public knowledge – was a quick but decisive air strike that would pulverize Hamas and by so weakening it make any serious peace initiative, once again, impossible. It is a model of warfare similar to what the U.S. is pursuing in Yemen, Pakistan, etc – an air war combined with targeted assassinations  The U.S. does it with drones, the Israelis with F-16 and naval fire power both pounding Gaza to smitherines, once again. For the Gaza war to be a success it is essential it be short and dirty for a number of reasons, among them

- it prevents a sustained mobilization of world public opinion against Israel’s actions.

– it cuts Israeli casualties

– it is meant to humiliate the regimes that have come to power through the Arab Spring by exposing their impotence to this crisis, thus creating more tensions in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, between the unstable governments and the people, etc.

– it permits the Middle East regimes – Egypt in the first place, but really all of those in the U.S. camp – to posture support of the Palestinians to their hearts delight without threatening their strategic commitments to U.S. policy. The longer the war continues, the more likely the Arab public will exert pressure on their regimes for more concerted action. In such situations, these unstable regimes could be in deep shit as they say.

– the longer the war, the more complicated things get for the Obama Administration’s plans for the region. When Israel bombs, the whole region knows that most of the sophisticated weapons it is raining down on Gaza have `made in USA’ on them – as they have for decades. U.S. made cluster bombs, phosphorus bombs and high powered missiles undermine any suggestion that Washington is somehow `an honest broker’  to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But now the Israeli cabinet is debating whether to widen the war.

An all out offensive on Gaza is a horse of a different color for everyone concerned.  A long drawn out full scale Gaza ground offensive not only compromises Israel’s position, deepening its pariah status in much of the world, but it also considerably complicates the situation for the new Obama Administration, now facing yet another Middle East mess to deal with on top of domestic budget crisis. It is pathetic, but predictable, to see the Obama Administration put the blame for the current crisis all on the Palestinian side as it repeats `Israel has a right to defend itself’ as a mantra. Old story though. Israeli aggression dressed in `self defense’ was the pretext of the 2006 failed incursion into Lebanon, the 2008 ground offensive against Gaza. That it is turning reality on its head didn’t seem to matter in Washington then, nor now.

Netanyahu and Lieberman were banking on a quickie – so were those Arab regimes who feign support for the Palestinians but now `the landscape’ has shifted as a result of the medium range missile attacks. A ground campaign, should Netanyahu decide to take that route,  will be inevitably ugly and the modicum of good will that Israel has by spinning the war, will evaporate. At the time of this writing (Saturday, November 17, 2012) the cabinet cannot decide whether to launch a ground offensive. If the Palestinians have sophisticated medium range missiles, they must also have anti-tank rockets which can knock out Israeli tanks. Then things get very, very messy. Israeli casualties will soar and if 2006 Lebanon and the 2008 Gaza offensives are any indications, Israeli war crimes against the Palestinians, once again, are almost inevitable.

The Israeli cabinet has met 3-4 times over the past 24 hours. They cannot seem to make up their minds about a ground attack. Palestinian mastery of medium range missiles – even a few of them – that can hit Tel Aviv and Jerusalem have changed the equation of the offensive. It was supposed to be the massive bombing campaign it has been up until now, and then some kind of end to it. Netanyahu wanted to finish the job before world public opinion could get mobilized – the demonstrations are starting everywhere.

The Israeli cabinet doesn’t seem to know how to proceed. Stop the air war or expand the war with a full scale ground assault. We’ll see and rather soon.  The usually conservative Jerusalem Post seems to be arguing against a ground incursion. As for me, I’m taking the sign I’ve had for the past 45 years out of the garage, dusting it off and heading, with my entire family downtown to join Friends of Sabeel, Jewish Voice for Peace and Occupy Denver. The old sign reads simply `End The Occupation’. I’d like to thrown it away but unfortunately, it still seems to strike a chord.

Rob Prince is a Lecturer of International Studies at the University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Studies.