The flare up of violence between Israel and Gaza looks like its about to escalate, with an Israeli airstrike today killing a Hamas commander and Israeli military leadership talking openly about the possibility of an expanded war on Gaza, possibly including a ground invasion.
This escalation occurs just days after widespread reports about newly reelected Obama mulling a grand bargain with Iran over its disputed nuclear program. Barbara Slavin and Laura Rozen at Al-Monitorreported on Monday that US officials told them Washington was considering offering a “more for more” deal with Iran, based on the fuel swap deal from Obama’s first term.
So what does Israel’s impending war on defenseless Gaza have to do with Iran diplomacy? Here’s a tweet from the Tehran bureau chief for the New York Times, Thomas Erdbrink:
I suspect this point was not lost on the Israeli leadership, either. So, is Netanyahu knowingly escalating military tensions in order to avoid a successful diplomatic overture? I’m speculating, but it isn’t far fetched. We know from extensive reporting, mainly in Israeli media, that in 2010 – just as President Obama requested a freeze on Jewish settlements in the West Bank with the aim of resuming peace talks – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tried to provoke Iran into a war with Israel that would eventually drag in the United States.
It reminds me of what former CIA Middle East analyst Paul Pillar referred to this week as “Netanyahu’s tension-stoking brinksmanship: to divert attention from continued Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory and inaction on the festering Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” “[T]he Iran issue,” Pillar has previously written, provides a “distraction” from international “attention to the Palestinians’ lack of popular sovereignty.” Now the situation seems reversed: Israel is escalating war with Gaza to maintain deadlock with their favorite scapegoat, Iran.
Israel, lest we forget, instigated this resumption of missile exchanges last week when two Palestinian civilians were shot and killed and Israeli tanks intruded into Gaza, prompting Gaza militants to respond by targeting Israeli soldiers, which then gave Israel an excuse to unleash successive airstrikes. And Israel had numerous chances to pacify the situation, considering Hamas publicly offered to establish a total ceasefireand Egypt appeared about to broker a truce between the two. Israel has intentionally inched towards escalation from the beginning. Are we to believe this isn’t strategic?