Twenty-five Palestinians — among them four civilians — were killed during the recent border crossfire between Israel and Gaza, which started Friday after Israeli pilots killed a Palestinian terrorchief.
As expected when shots are fired, Western officials urged both sides to re-establish calm and warned of further escalation. But somehow Israel, which often feels unfairly singled out for criticism, was not widely blamed for the bloodshed, although its airstrike prompted the recent round of violence.
Sure, British Middle East minister Alistair Burt and the United Nations special envoy for the peace process, Robert Serry, called upon all parties “to exercise restraint.” But the US State Department, in its statement, strongly condemned “the rocket fire from Gaza by terrorists into southern Israel” — without asking Israel to stop retaliating. Besides some Arab states, which accused Israel of “massacres,” nobody condemned Israel for killing Zuhair al-Qaissi, the head of of the Popular Resistance Committees.
To be sure, the four-day flare-up was nothing compared to Operation Cast Lead, a three-week campaign launched in response to 8,000 rockets that fell on southern Israel over the years. During that war, in the winter of 2008/09, more than a thousand Palestinians — including about 300 civilians, according to the IDF — died during hundreds of air strikes. Israel was chided for using disproportionate force, with even Western countries calling the “large number of civilian victims… unacceptable,” and the United Nations commissioning the now notorious Goldstone Report, which accused Israel of possible war crimes.
Then and now, the Israel Air Force was taking utmost care not to harm civilians. And while the number of casualties was enormously lower during the latest cross-border violence, four non-combatants did lose their lives, among them a teenager. Yet no Western leader accused Israel of using “disproportionate force.” Calls for another Goldstone Report were entirely absent.
Israel says al-Qaissi was on his way to perpetrate another terror attack (military sources say he was one of those responsible for last August’s attack north of Eilat, which killed eight Israelis), but that wouldn’t normally have stopped Israel-bashers from blaming the Jewish state. After all, Israel was condemned for Cast Lead even though it came after years of constant rocket attacks on Israeli civilians.
The UN in particular — widely regarded to suffer from a strong anti-Israel bias — surprised pro-Israel advocates with its reluctance to slam the Jewish state this time.
This Monday, the Palestinian delegation to the UN Human Rights Council demanded the assembly hold an “urgent debate” on Israel’s alleged massacre in Gaza. However, the council decided not to interrupt its regular session schedule to discuss the issue — a step that was “exceptional, if not unheard of at the UNHRC,” according to Hillel Neuer of UN Watch.
Perhaps the world is cutting Israel some slack because it feels that Jerusalem has acted with more restraint than usual. During this week’s flare-up, the air force launched 37 air strikes on Gaza, according to the IDF. In comparison, more than 100 such attacks were executed on the first day of Cast Lead alone.
Israeli politicians would like to believe that the world has avoided harsh criticism of Israel because it has finally realized that Israel is acting in self-defense.
“Western leaders have started to understand, in light of what they see in Iran, Syria and Egypt, that a real threat emanates from radical Islam, which is spreading in the region,” said MK Moshe Matalon (Yisrael Beitenu). “They understand that terror groups like the PRC (al-Qaissi’s Popular Resistance Committees), Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad are funded and supported by Iran,” he said, adding that the West was also cognizant of the fact that Israel could have reacted much more forcefully to the 300 rockets that terrorists rained on Israeli citizens.
The opposition seems to agree with that assessment.
“People understand more and more that Israel needs to fight terror. After all, Israel is the only state in the world where civilians are almost daily under rocket fire,” said MK Yoel Hasson of Kadima. “But I’m not sure that if we launch a stronger attack on Gaza, the world will be as silent as they were today.”
The world’s approval, however, should not play a role when Israel is considering the right course of action, Hasson added. If hit by terrorists, Israel needs to show strength — even if that is followed by international criticism, he said.
At this point in time, it seems inevitable that more cross-border violence is just months away. Indeed, the rocket fire had not entirely halted as of Wednesday night, with a rocket fired at Beersheba after one landed near Ashkelon earlier in the day. Defense officials and lawmakers from all factions agree that the Egypt-brokered ceasefire that reestablished some degree of calm in the region signifies very little beyond a temporary halt to the rocket attacks. But there are disagreements over what the best strategy is to deal with the Gaza terrorists.
Some right-wingers advocate a full-fledged ground operation to topple Hamas and to uproot the terrorist infrastructure once and for all. Although they are aware of the logistical challenges of such an operation, they say there is no alternative to guarantee the safety of Israel’s populace.
Others agree that terrorism needs to be fought in Gaza but are not sure a massive ground operation is the best option.
“The IDF knows what it needs to do, but we need to think about a strategy,” Hasson said. “Iron Dome allows us to be more immune against their attacks, which gives us time and more flexibility to think about a significant strategic decision.”
Matalon, too, says that the option of an expanded ground invasion is “on the table” but that he prefers to try something else first. His motto: “Quiet for quiet, a million for a million,” referring to the million Israelis in the range of rocket fire from Gaza.
“Any time that Israeli children are sitting in shelters and a million people can’t go to school or to work, we should not let [Gazans] live in peace and quiet. We should cut electricity and [other] supplies in Gaza, until they come to their leaders and have them abandon terrorism, or until they cause their government to fall,” Matalon said. “It’s inconceivable that Israeli children sit in shelters, and in Gaza the people know that the IDF doesn’t attack civilians and therefore sit at home quietly without a worry.”
Labor also believes that the current ceasefire will not last long. But Yechiel Bar, the party’s secretary-general, suggests that the only way to guarantee a long-term solution is to advance the peace process with the Palestinians.
“We must not be fooled into thinking that Iron Dome can replace a permanent settlement with the Palestinians, or at least real negotiations with them, just as the unilateral withdrawals and the security fence had not solved the bloodshed,” Bar stated Tuesday. “The current freeze does not serve Israel’s interests because, although it looks as if there is quiet, this quiet is imaginary, while the country’s diplomatic and security situation keeps on getting worse. The hourglass is running toward the death of the two-state solution, which is the only way to guarantee Israel’s existence for ever.”
For Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on the other hand, the recent bout of violence serves less as an impetus to hurry back to the negotiation table but, seemingly, as another casus belli — against Iran. Speaking in the Knesset on Wednesday, he blamed the Islamic Republic for arming the Palestinian terrorists who attacked Israel.
“What happens in Gaza is Iran. You have to internalize that. Where are the missiles coming from? Iran. Where does the money come from? Iran. Who is training the terrorists? Iran. The infrastructure? Iran. And who gives often the orders? Iran,” the prime minister said. Netanyahu added that he was not willing to accept terror groups surrounding Israel armed with nuclear weapons supplied by Tehran.
He reminded MKs who believe he is being alarmist regarding the Iranian threat that they were also skeptical when he left the Sharon government to protest the 2005 disengagement from Gaza, claiming the strip would become a launching pad for rockets.
“You brought Iran to Gaza,” Netanyahu said, addressing the present Kadima MKs. It was Kadima founder Ariel Sharon who spearheaded the disengagement.
Coalition chairman Zeev Elkin — a former Kadima MK who now is a member of Likud — blamed the disengagement for the current situation, attacking his former party colleagues for pushing through the evacuation plan despite having been warned of the dangers. “I am waiting for the day when they will stand up and admit that the disengagement was a mistake for which we are paying today, and apologize for this to the residents of Beersheba, Ashdod, Sderot, Netivot and the other residents of the Negev,” Elkin said.
- Israel strikes Gaza despite cease-fire (jta.org)
- As rocket attacks ease, Netanyahu reiterates his Gaza policy (jta.org)
- Rockets land in Israel despite reported cease-fire (jta.org)
- Palestinian Terrorists Launch Rocket Barrage Against Israeli Civilians (waronterrornews.typepad.com)
- Islamic Jihad: Proud to be murdering sub-human terrorists (iamiranaware.wordpress.com)