The US is backpedaling its support for Israel’s brutal invasion of Gaza; destruction of the entire northern half (or third) of the walled-off and blockaded territory that is home and prison for 2.3 million trapped Palestinians is occurring now that the IDF has achieved its objective of gaining control of the Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. The reason is that Israel has not been able to convincingly display the “underground command center” that it has been for weeks claiming justified its siege and eventual attack on that hospital.
The pointed declarations that Israeli and US “intelligence” had made both governments, in Jerusalem and Washington, “confident” that there was a Hamas “command and control center” operating in a Hamas-constructed bunker under the hospital connected to a network of reinforced tunnels leading into and out of the hospital, have not been borne out. Instead, what the so-called Israel Defense Force (IDF) has offered up is a cellar constructed 40 years ago under Israeli supervision in a “Building 2” addition, according to a Newsweek report and a report in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. This basement, put in place well before the founding of Hamas, was long known as it was included in the hospital addition plan and meant to serve as a laundry room.
No Hamas-constructed access and escape tunnels have been reported as found so far; only an above-ground room in one of the main hospital buildings that allegedly was found to contain a small cache of arms such as 15 automatic weapons and grenades, and a computer allegedly containing images of Israeli hostages on its hard drive — both find said to be evidence that Hamas fighters were using the hospital, or at least to store weapons, and possibly to hold some hostages at some point, but hardly evidence of the hospital’s hiding the Hamas “command and control center” which Israel had been claiming, with certainty, to be the justification for its attack and takeover of the hospital and for the “collateral” deaths of hundreds of patients, medical personnel, and even premie babies on incubators that failed once deprived of electricity.
Further contributing to the growing skepticism of some news organizations in the US and Britain regarding Israeli claims are indications that the IDF was careful not to allow the few journalists permitted to enter the hospital with its troops yesterday to look in the boxes labeled “baby food” which they claimed to have found in the “bunker.” Instead, the weapons were presented and laid out on a tarp as an exhibit.
This has led many US news outlets to start using qualifiers like “the IDF claimed to have found” the weapons in the hospital, and even, in the case of the alleged Hamas computer, “claimed to have images of hostages on them.” Some journalists and editors, perhaps having adopted this change of wording after being offered it by Israeli sources, are now referring to the IDF as having found a command and control “node” rather than a command and control “center,” the latter term implying something like a buried Hamas “Pentagon” while the former sounds more like a minor link in a network of local command headquarters.
Now, it’s certainly possible that the IDF did “find” a longstanding basement that Hamas fighters had appropriated before being emptied in the days before the Israeli troops entered the hospital. But even if that is were the case, news reports are speculating (perhaps also at the suggestion of ISF or Israeli government sources), that since no tunnels have yet been found, perhaps Hamas control center personnel purportedly in the basement may have escaped by ‘blending in” with the staff and refugees who were allowed to leave at the end of the siege of the hospital facility. In any case, as Israel had the plans for the hospital complex, they didn’t “find” that basement. They knew where it was and went to it.
But one would think, given the growing global outrage, including among a growing number of US citizens, including many young Jewish Americans, and among some Israelis too, over the IDF’s massive bombardment of Gaza, now being described as the largest in this century, including the US bombardments of Iraq’s cities, and the collective punishment visited upon all Gazans with the cutoff of food, water, electricity and medicine that is still ongoing, that the Netanyahu government and the IDF, would have wanted reporters to accompany them in finding that bunker and any weapons and computers that might turn up, and would have wanted them to watch as those computers were checked out to find out what was on them, to prevent the kind of skeptical coverage that is now dogging them.
All of this is critically important because the Israeli blitzkrieg on Gaza, which has killed over 12,000 people (a quarter of them children), with an unknown number buried and impossible to rescue under the rubble of the IDF’s leveling of Gaza City and other population centers, was launched explicitly in response to the Hamas break-out attack on Oct. 7. That was when some thousand or more Israeli civilians and troops living and working in settlements and bases outside of the wall surrounding Gaza were killed, including children, and when some 200 were kidnapped and brought back to Gaza as hostages.
To be sure, the deliberate killing of civilians in Israel by Hamas fighters that day was, by definition, a war crime, but under the laws of war, a crime by one side in a conflict does not justify a war crime in response by the other side. To make matters worse, Israeli’s invasion and blockade are much more severe war crimes, both in the scale of the killing and injuring of civilians and because its leaders have openly called for collective “punishment” of all Palestinians in Gaza, and in practice have been doing precisely that. So the seeming imperative for Israel to come up with some kind of evidence to justify its indiscriminate violence against the residents of Gaza and its attacks on hospitals ought to have led them to offer up incontrovertible proof of Hamas perfidy.
If what the IDF has come up with so far at the Al Shifa Hospital is all it has to show for the epic violence and death it has wrought, it has come up short.
This failure thus far for Israel and its vaunted “humanitarian” military to come up with evidence of a Hamas underground army and hospital-based command and control center or network of command and control “nodes” has led to the frankly infuriating behind-the-scenes spectacle of US emissaries like Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and other top Biden administration cheerleaders for Israel’s war on Gaza now begging the Netanyahu government to realize that, as a CNN report puts it, “There is limited time for Israel to try to accomplish its stated objective of taking out Hamas in its current operation before uproar over the humanitarian suffering and civilian casualties – and calls for a ceasefire – reaches a tipping point.”
I say infuriating because this has been classic (and usually failed) US policy throughout its whole series of unrelenting wars over the nearly eight decades since the end of WWII: Go in big, do your bloody mass destruction and killing thing, or in the case of Vietnam, your brutal attacks on peasant villages and your search-and-destroy missions and relocation of populations into fenced-in “strategic hamlets” guarded by troops, your My Lai massacres and your “secret” and B-52 bombings of Cambodia, as quickly as you can, and hope you can win before losing the support of the American people.
It is a strategy that in practice has not worked very well for the US, as Nixon learned with his Christmas B-52 carpet bombing of North Vietnam, or as George Bush learned with his “Shock and Awe” attack on Iraq. But hope springs eternal for US leaders with their imperialist, ‘exceptional nation” chutzpah., so we’ve had the disastrous Obama-backed overthrow of Muammar Gaddafy in Libya and, more recently, Biden’s propping up of Ukraine’s attempt to reclaim majority ethnic Russian parts of that former Soviet “state” including Crimea. These are examples of US military adventures that went in big and have turned into dragged-out failures that Americans gradually turned against in large numbers.
In Israel’s case, this bloody calculus is slightly different: Netanyahu and/or his Likud party coalition might well be able to rely on continued support from their hard-core zionist supporters (for whom no amount of violence against Palestinians is too much to stomach) to cling to power. But in the US, upon which Israel relies for $3.8 billion a year in free military weapons and ammunition, and diplomatic support in the UN, where the US reliably blocks any Security Council actions that target Israel, the public is becoming increasingly disenchanted with Israel’s brutal treatment of Palestinians under its control, whether in Gaza, the occupied West Bank, or within the original borders of pre-’67 War Israel.
That is to say, President Biden, who has called himself a “Zionist” and solid backer of Israel but who is facing an increasingly tough-looking re-election campaign in less than a year, is beginning to wonder if his support of a long, bloody Israeli war on and occupation of Gaza, not to mention the continuing and increasingly violent occupation of the West Bank by the IDF and the continued expansion of violent land-grabbing settlers in that region, is such a great idea.