STEADFASTNESS AND ROCKET-FIRE
“As this article went to press Israel’s aggression on Gaza was continuing for the sixth successive day,” writes Hani al-Masri in Tuesday’s leading Palestinian daily al-Ayyam.
And Gaza’s steadfastness and rocket fire on Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and other areas that have never been touched before continues, despite the Israeli government’s declaration from the very first day that it had destroyed the infrastructure that allows the Palestinians to fire such rockets.
At the same time, Egypt’s efforts – backed by the U.S., Europe, and the Arab world – continue in order to reach a tahdi’a [lull or calming down]. And despite the fact that everything remains possible, the various parties have all expressed their readiness to reach such an agreement which makes this the most likely outcome, without totally excluding the possibility of escalation.
Before we give an assessment of the overall Israeli aggression, we must first point to Israel and the Palestinians’ aims if we are to judge which party will emerge victorious and which will be defeated.
Netanyahu’s government’s aggression aimed at the following:
- First, to restore the Palestinians’ commitment to the rules of the tahdi’a achieved after the December-2008/January-2009 [Gaza] war. That is to say, to revive Israel’s deterrent power which had been damaged after the Palestinians returned to firing rockets with a green light from Hamas, or without its active opposition at first and then with its subsequent participation.
Hamas was in an awkward situation because of the equation that Israel had imposed – namely, that it should abide by the tahdi’a and be held responsible for it in light of the fact that it is the authority in charge of preventing the other factions from firing rockets. If it failed to do so, it would be held accountable for what others were doing. But Israel has added other aims during its latest aggression, primarily that the resistance should withdraw its weapons, that the smuggling of weapons into Gaza should cease, and that international guarantees should be provided for all this.
- Second, Israel aimed to benefit from the new Egyptian regime’s need for a tahdi’a and the best possible relations with the U.S. administration resulting from the country’s difficult political, economic, and security situation. In other words, Israel wanted to ‘test the pulse’ of Egypt’s new rulers and to see the extent to which they may be ready to appease the U.S. in order to secure the international aid and loans they need.
More importantly, Israel wanted to see how far Egypt’s new rulers would be willing to go so as to ensure continuous American recognition of them in particular and the Muslim Brotherhood as a whole. The latter has already come to power in a number of countries and is sufficiently strong to come to power in others.
If possible, as well, Israel wanted to push President Mursi into sponsoring a new ceasefire and to ensure that he would abide by the same old rules. These gave Israel the right to attack and assassinate whomever it wishes – i.e. the right of ‘hot pursuit’ that appears in the Oslo Accords and that Israel wants to impose on Gaza – that are not accorded to any other party.
- Third, Netanyahu wanted this war to save him from Obama’s anger during the latter’s second term in office. That anger is the result of Netanyahu’s repeated insults to Obama during his first term in office and his bias towards Obama’s opponent Romney during the electoral campaign.
In this regard, it seems that Netanyahu has achieved his aim. We have seen the U.S. administration defending what it described as ‘Israel’s right to defend itself’ and blocking a resolution or even a statement from the UN Security Council denouncing the Israeli aggression. The U.S. has also provided additional military aid to Israel for the development of the Iron Dome. It has announced that it will back any decision taken by the Israeli government to escalate the aggression, although it prefers that a ground war be avoided.
- Fourth, Netanyahu wishes to highlight security as an item on the coming Israeli elections’ agenda, thereby enhancing his chances of victory. He also sought to preempt a debate on other social and economic issues by achieving tangible results in the field of security.
- Fifth, the aggression has specific military aims such as testing the effectiveness of certain Israeli weapon systems especially the Iron Dome, and exploring the Palestinians’ capabilities and the new weapons that they have obtained.
As for Hamas’s aims, they can be summarized as follows:
- First, to emphasize the Palestinians’ legitimate right to self defense against Israeli attacks, assassinations, and incursions.
- Second, to stress the Palestinians’ right to resist the occupation.
- Third, Hamas is trying to impose new rules based on a mutual ceasefire agreement, rather than a unilateral ceasefire [as before]. This is especially relevant given that Hamas believes that the Arab situation – especially in Egypt – is changing in its favor, but without it reaping any new benefits consistent with this change.
Thus, the siege imposed on Gaza has remained essentially as before despite some improvement. The U.S. and Europe have both recognized Egypt’s new rulers, but they have not changed their attitude towards Hamas despite this. On the contrary, they want Egypt’s new rulers to ‘tame’ Hamas before it can be accepted as a legitimate partner; otherwise, the siege will remain as before.
What happened was that Israel escalated the situation by assassinating Hamas’s military commander Ahmad al-Ja’abari. This time round, Hamas did not sit back and accept the blow. It is wagering on the fact that the situation has changed and that the Arabs will not leave the Palestinians to face their fate alone this time round.
Still, Hamas needs to avoid inflated expectations. A change has indeed occurred, but it has not been comprehensive. This is evident from the official Arab reactions that have been purely symbolic and political in nature, and that have not included any political, economic, and military means of pressure. This has presented the Arabs as ‘lambs,’ to quote the exact words of the Qatari foreign minister.
However, even those who are not enamored of the fight against Israel via the use of rockets because of the absolute imbalance of power and the vast destruction and suffering this inflicts on the Palestinians, have admitted that the Palestinian factions in general, and Hamas and Islamic Jihad in particular, have benefited from the lessons of the last war and have obtained new weapons and expertise.
These have appeared in the targeting of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, placing most of Israel and not only the South, within range of Palestinian rockets. That is a blow to the very heart of the Israel’s deterrence doctrine.
This doctrine is based on principles, the most important of which is to ensure that the initiative is always in Israel’s hand. And this is to be achieved in the following manner: To be able to start a war and end it with lightning speed, to do so at the time most appropriate for Israel, to keep the domestic front safe from the war, and to preserve the right to violate any tahdi’a agreement at any time Israel wishes without granting the same right to the Palestinian side.
If a ceasefire is achieved as rockets continue to be directed at most of Israel’s areas until the last moment, and if Israel’s preconditions for accepting a new ceasefire are not accepted, that would mean that Israel would have lost the war this time round. It initiated the war to protect Southern Israel against rockets, but it emerged from this war with almost the whole of Israeli territory at the mercy of these rockets.
What adds to Israel’s loss is the fact that despite their split, the Palestinians have been untied against the aggression, unlike in the former [2008/09] war. In addition to the steadfastness and brave resistance in Gaza, there are preliminary signs of a popular intifada in the West Bank, as well as overall Palestinian popular solidarity wherever there are Palestinians inside and outside the occupied homeland.
We should therefore thank Netanyahu’s government for uniting the Palestinians against it in war, and which could unite them further by ending their split if they manage to exploit this appropriate moment in which Israel is fighting them on all fronts. Unlike Olmert’s former government, Israel this time around is not distinguishing between moderates and extremists, Fateh and Hamas, or those who are fighting it politically and diplomatically and those who are fighting it militarily.
This is where Egypt’s role comes in. Egypt must make use of the current moment to impose unity on the Palestinians, end the siege on Gaza without waiting for American and Israeli permission, and send a clear message that what existed before has now come to an end. To confine itself to denunciations and symbolic visits to Gaza and facilities at the Rafah crossing and to focus on the tahdi’a alone is insufficient to deter Israel and force it to think a million times before it even considers continuing or escalating its aggression.
Hamas and Fateh must realize that there is no path towards national salvation or even towards recognition of Hamas or the continuation of Fateh’s leading role, except by seeking common shelter under the umbrella of national unity.
“And this is to be done on a patriotic and democratic basis, with a genuine partnership free from extremism, adventurism, defeatism, and surrender,” concludes Masri.