Taking advantage of Palestinian disunity and an election year in the US, Israel is hitting the Gaza Strip hard, writes Saleh Al-Naami
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Clockwise from top: the long-suffering people of Gaza inspect the rubble of a destroyed building following an Israeli air strike in Jabaliya; Palestinians carry the body of Zuhair Al-Qaissi, a commander of the armed wing of the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC); women follow the funeral of Islamic Jihad militant Ahmed Hajaj in Gaza
Aisha was especially upset Monday morning; she had not packed sandwiches for her sixth-grade son Naif before he went to school that day, so she decided to prepare a hot meal for him as soon as he got home. Aisha was shocked, however, to hear the loud noises surrounding her house in the coastal district of Al-Sudaniya in the north of the Gaza Strip. A crowd of her neighbours was coming towards her house and quickly found out that the son she loved so dearly was decimated in an Israeli air raid that targeted him and his friends on their way back from school.
It was a shock for everyone in the neighbourhood who all have close ties to the family, most surprisingly because this area is usually very quiet and no members of the Palestinian resistance are located there. Naif was victim number 21 killed in continuous air raids by Israel on the Gaza Strip since Friday night. The assassinations by Israel primarily targeted members of the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) and the Islamic Jihad, but a large number of civilians have also been the victims of these operations.
Israel's unmanned drones were used in the assassinations and the orders of the Israeli army were crystal clear: assassinate the targets at any cost. Indeed, the Israelis do not hesitate in bombing homes with people inside if they receive intelligence that there are targets inside. They bomb resistance targets in civilian vehicles or homes.
Israeli air raids, with the participation of various military branches, have affected all aspects of life in the Gaza Strip. Thousands of Palestinian farmers refused to go to their farms since most agricultural land is located on the "contact" zone by the border separating the Gaza Strip and Israel, and is frequently the target of Israeli artillery under the pretext of preventing resistance fighters from nearing the border.
The Israeli navy attacked training camps of the resistance, preventing fisherman from going to sea especially at night. Work in government offices in Gaza also slowed down and most security headquarters in the Gaza Strip were evacuated out of fear of being attacked by the Israeli Air Force. Meanwhile, schools and universities cancelled off campus non-academic activities, including field trips, until further notice.
Informed Palestinian sources told Al-Ahram Weekly that activities in underground tunnels connecting the Gaza Strip and Egypt to smuggle goods and fuel to Gaza have also markedly slowed down, out of concern that Israeli jets would bomb them.
The resistance responded by firing dozens of rockets at Jewish settlements close to the Gaza Strip, injuring dozens of settlers. As a precaution, all classes were suspended in southern Israel and settlers were told to hide in bunkers.
Israeli attacks began on Friday afternoon when Tel Aviv assassinated Zoheir Al-Qeisi, PRC secretary general, and his companion Mahmoud Hanani in the Gaza Strip. Israel claimed that Al-Qeisi was planning to launch an attack on Israel from Sinai, but this narrative was denied by the leading Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot that reported that Israel is escalating attacks based on a premeditated plan that had nothing to do with a possible attack from Sinai.
While the Israeli army did not deny that a ground attack on the Gaza Strip was possible, Israeli Minister of Intelligence Dan Meridor stated that it is unlikely. Meridor, however, asserted Israel's "right" to use "any necessary combat measures to guarantee its security. We obviously prefer a campaign with the least losses in our forces but we are prepared for all possibilities. Right now, there is no need for a ground assault."
Israeli military commentator Ron Ben-Yishai argued that Israel is taking a big risk if it continues attacks for a long time, and that it will have to end its current escalation since it is not in Israel's interest to drag Hamas to full confrontation since this might pose a serious threat inside Israel. Meanwhile, the Israeli government is trying to force the Palestinians to compromise by using military strikes. Sources tell the Weekly that Israel told Egyptian mediators that it rejected suspending strikes in return for a truce, while informed sources say that Israel only agreed to end its current operations on the understanding that it will continue its targeted assassinations if intelligence justifies them.
Youssef Rizqa, political adviser to Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, said that Egypt is still trying to mediate a truce to end Israel's strikes against the Gaza Strip. Rizqa warned that Netanyahu's government is being evasive, trying to impose a reality on the ground while tying the hands of the Palestinians to prevent them from defending themselves.
But Palestinian movements targeted for assassination, especially the Islamic Jihad and PRC, declared they would not uphold the truce and will continue to respond to Israeli attacks. Al-Quds Brigades, the military wing of the Islamic Jihad, said it intends to continue to respond to "Israeli crimes no matter at what price because of Zionist attacks against the Gaza Strip". It further promised "unexpected responses". The group issued a statement asserting: "Strikes will be met with strikes; escalation will be met with escalation. Responses will continue to confront the crimes of occupation against the leaders and members of the resistance."
Israeli claims that the Palestinian resistance is planning attacks against Tel Aviv from Sinai obviously aim to achieve two basic goals: inciting Egypt's leadership against the Palestinian resistance, making the latter appear to be abusing the security vacuum in Egypt, especially in Sinai, to launch operations that embarrass Cairo. At the same time, curtailing Egypt's reaction to Israel escalating attacks. Israel still recalls Egypt's response to the assassination of PRC leaders after the Eilat operation when the Israeli embassy in Cairo was ransacked.
Recently, several Israeli military leaders dropped bombshell revelations while testifying about security conditions in front of the Knesset's Security and Foreign Affairs Committee. The generals disclosed that the perpetrators of the Eilat operation on 18 August 2011 were not Palestinian and have no connection with the Gaza Strip. This information is pertinent because at the time Israel justified the assassination of Kamal Al-Nayrab, the former secretary-general of the PRC, and several PRC leaders, by claiming that they were behind the Eilat attack.
The assassinations of Al-Nayrab and his colleagues occurred when the Eilat operations were still ongoing, and the same scenario is repeating itself with Israel claiming it eliminated Al-Qeisi because he was plotting a large military operation against Israel from Sinai.
Israel is well aware of how current conditions are conducive to escalating its pre-planned attacks on the Gaza Strip. International circumstances are favourable since the US is preoccupied with readying for presidential elections, and the Obama administration is intent on supporting Tel Aviv at all costs to enhance Obama's chances of re-election. Hence, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did not hesitate in declaring her support for Israel's military operations in the Gaza Strip.
At the same time, several key European states such as France, Germany and Italy are preparing for elections and their leaders are right wing, and traditionally support Israel's positions and conduct. Regional conditions also encourage Israel to intensify its attacks since many Arab states are busy with domestic affairs, especially where revolutions for democracy have occurred. In transition and teeming with problems, domestic concerns overshadow the conflict with Israel in many such states, including Egypt.
Needless to say, Palestinian conditions also certainly embolden Israel to escalate confrontations. These include internal divisions and Tel Aviv's ability to manoeuvre on the Palestinian scene. While Israel refuses to commit to the minimal requirements of political settlement, persisting in Judaicisation measures in Jerusalem and large-scale settlement building, the Palestinian Authority (PA) continues security cooperation with Tel Aviv.