After several days of escalating violence in the area, Israel has launched a series of air strikes on Hamas in the Gaza Strip under the English operational name „Pillar of Defense.” Given progress in Egyptian attempts to mediate the tensions, I admit my first instinct was to relate this to the need for Israeli leaders to look like they can deliver security heading into elections, inevitably by attacking someone. That someone is apparently the targetable Hamas, even though the Marxist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine began the recent violence. It may be more generally an attempt to „do something” about the ongoing security issues along its border with the currently chaotic Sinai Peninsula, which is linked to Gaza. Dimi Reider, however, notes two points:
My own hunch, and that of several Israeli observers, is that Barak is the prime mover behind this recent escalation. His has been a consistent voice for stronger Israeli military action in previous rounds of escalation in Gaza, and he stands more to gain from a large-scale military operation. Netanyahu is winning the elections with one hand tied behind his back Barak and his splinter Independence Party, by contrast, have barely been scratching the electoral barrier. Appearing as a decisive, wily and sophisticated military mind next to a wallowing Netanyahu can only do Barak that much good, and Israeli Twitterati have already replaced “Pillar of Defense” the cringe-inducing, Freud-evoking codename for the operation with “Independence War…”
Politically, and of nail-biting frustration to those who wish to see the duo replaced by somebody more “moderate,” Netanyahu and Barak painted all other parties in Israel into a corner. The entire ghostly regiment of the Great White Hopes, including opposition leader Shaul Mofaz (Kadima); the self-appointed True Alternative to Netanyahu, Shelly Yachimovich (Labor); and the would-be leaders of a new centrist block, Livni and Olmert – all queued up today to lavish praise on the assassination, differing only in the scope of their calls for further violence.
To wit: Netanyahu’s “leftist” opposition, the very people on whom JStreet and company have been pinning hopes for a return to the peace process, are enthusiastically applauding a completely unnecessary escalation and are lining up behind the prime minister with hatchets drawn.
Getting the opposition to praise your leadership in a moment of crisis is never a bad thing, as seen recently in Chris Christie’s words about Barack Obama’s handling of Hurricane Sandy. It’s also not out of the question that Netanyahu could face a challenge led by Livni or Olmert, who could mount the credible campaign for the prime minister-ship that seems beyond Mofaz and Yachimovich.
The danger now is that the conflict will only escalate. Israel has now assassinated Ahmad al-Jabari, number two in the Izz al-Din Qassam Brigade, Hamas’s military wing. The IDF even posted a video of the assassination to Youtube. Hamas as vowed revenge, and stated that all in Israel are currently legitimate targets. If Hamas does respond somehow, probably through a high-profile suicide bombing, Israel will escalate its operations in Gaza, which it shows signs of doing anyway. In other words, we could be about to rerun Operation Cast Lead from four years ago.