Tuesday, 30 December 2008

The Israelis strike back

Like every nation in the world, Israel has a right to protect its citizens and its borders. The complication in that tiny strech of land in the middle-east is that its citizens and borders remain so confused and disputed. The Palestinians living in Gaza are technically considered citizens of Israel by some members of the international community, and in fact only 96 nations currently recognise a Palestinian state, while less than 30 recognise the Palestinian passport issued by the Palestinian Authority (PA) in 1995. That being said, Israel is fighting a war very close to home.

Israel has suffered for decades (and continues to suffer) from internal terrorism. Londoners experince a common uneasiness everytime we use public transport. We can only imagine what it must be like being an Israeli. For those living in close proximity to Gaza even the home does not provide the safety it is usually associated with, for there is always the chance that a Gaza-based rocket may be launched into the property. Cafes, restaurants, sopping malls, buses, government buildings and private dwellings have all been the target of Palestinian terrorism in the past. According to CNN some 84 rockets were fired at Israeli civilian targets on the 27th of December, while some 124 rockets were reportedly fired on the morning of the 29th alone. Conservative Friends of Israel tells us that 5,000 rockets have been fired from Gaza into Israel by Palestinian militants since Israel withdrew its military forces from the territory in the summer of 2005. It is important to remember that these weapons are fired indiscriminately. They kill civilians and destroy private buildings. They are not targeted at commercial interests or Israeli security service buildings and no warning it provided in order to ensure safe evacuation of innocent citizens. They are indescriminate acts of terrorism. Israel has a right to defend itself from such attacks, and it's no surprise that the majority of Israelis support their government's offensive.

Unfortunatley however things are not that simple. Palestinian civilians are inevitable being killed in the offensive, reportedly at a rate of 1 to 3. But Hamas and its agents are blameworthy for this too. It is a popular strategy of Hamas and Gaza-based terrorists to launch rockets from residential areas as a means of protecting themselves from Israeli retaliation. These rockets are not harmless and one wonders how they would be reported by the media if it were Israelis launching rockets into Gaza with the full support of the Israeli government.

Of great concern is the situation on the ground in Gaza. Blood and medical supplies are likley scarce and Israeli bombs will inevitably destroy important infrastructure such as roads, making it difficult to transport the injured. Whether or not Hamas and Eqypt will come to an arrangment regarding supplies from that north African state is presently unknown. Hamas is not particularly pleased with the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, who bluntly told it "You [Hamas] have brought this upon yourselves. You are responsible for what is happening to the people of Gaza."

The people of Gaza can thererore perhaps blame Hamas for this tragedy as much as they can the Israeli military which continues to pound their territory. No doubt that is what Israel wants. Hamas has allowed (and encouraged) terrorists to operate in Gaza and publically states that it seeks the destruction of the state of Israel. The organisation was however democratically elected in the 2006 Gazan elections. Whether or not an organisation listed as "terrorist" by Canada, Japan, the US and the majority of the EU member states can be considered a legitimate political party is debatable, but doesn't change the fact that Palestinians in Gaza voted for candidates openly representing Hamas in elections a mere two years ago. Undoubtedly Israel hopes to identify Hamas as the indirect source of Gaza's battering. I order for this Israeli offensive to be truly successful it is important that there is a cultural shift in Gaza. That may be acheived by this warfare, but at what cost? Over 250 people have reportedly been killed in Gaza so far and that numbert is likely to increase significantly. There is the real possibility that Hamas will exploit such deaths and actually increase its support. That being said, this Israeli offensive could actually have the counterproductive of pushing Gazans who don't currently support Hamas into becoming its supporters. That is something Israel needs to thoroughly consider. The alternative is of course more sinister. Israel may be better equipted to deal with Hamas while it is operating openly. Driving it under ground and making martyres out of its leadership and supporters could in the long-term hurt Israel more than the current rocket attacks hurt it.

There are three objectives to Israel's airstrikes: the simplest and most immediate is to stop the rocket attacks which target private Israeli targets on a daily basis. The mid-term objective is to materially weaken Hamas by destroying its compounds and killing its members and senior figures. The long-term objective of turning ordinary Palestinians against Hamas may not be as simple to achieve. If Israel chooses a protracted campaign, and possibly ground war as is looking inevitable, it is taking a significant gamble. The ultimate objective in all is to cripple Hamas, for even Israel must accept that it will very doubtfully ever be completely destoryed. A ground offensive may be Israel's next best move. They can minimise civilian fatalities and perhaps restore a semblance of order in Gaza. Soldiers can also be used to transport much-needed supplies into Gaza.

There's no doubt that Israel has chosen its moment shrewdly. Most parliaments and congresses in the west are in recess for the Christmas break and there is a power vacuum in the white house as George W. Bush says goodbye to the oval office and Barack Obama enjoys the beaches of Hawaii. There are noises of a pan-Arabian coalition being organised. One is reminded of the six-day war when the Israeli military destroyed the last pan-Arabian military coalition organised against it. One outcome of that campaign ironically enough was Israel's takeover of the Gaza strip. Whether or not there is such a thing as a "Palestinian" people or a "Palestinian land" is a debate I don't intend to tackle in this post, but Gaza's Arab population may benefit from bearing it in mind for Israel surely will and will use it ideologically against any pan-Arabian coalition. One is reminded of Golda Meir's quote: "There was no such thing as Palestinians ... It was not as though there was a Palestinian people in Palestine considering itself as a Palestinian people and we came and threw them out and took their country away from them. They did not exist." The areas now claimed as "Palestine" we after all, until the 1960s, part of Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon, and a large number of Palestinians hold citizenship in those countries. The international community should remember that often over-looked fact.





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