War rapidly approaches
With the Muslim Brotherhood on the rise in Egypt, Tel Aviv knows that its latitude to strike Hamas will soon diminish, writes Saleh Al-Naami
The signs of joy were obvious on 10-year-old Ramadan's face as he kissed his mother goodnight on Thursday night. His father, Bahgat Al-Zaalan, 37, had promised that he would take him Friday morning with the rest of his siblings and mother on an outing to the amusement park, and thereafter they would have lunch at a restaurant in Gaza City.
While Ramadan and the rest of his family slept in their family home west of Al-Nasr district in northern Gaza, they were attacked by missiles that destroyed the house, killing Bahgat and fatally injuring Ramadan. His mother and three siblings are injured, one critically, and his grandparents in the next door house were also injured.
While Ramadan's family were asleep dreaming about an exciting day in the morning, three US-made Israeli Apache helicopters fired several missiles at a Hamas military location close to the Al-Zaalan home. Three missiles landed on the house, leveling it and causing much destruction to the neighbouring house. Palestinian security sources insist that the Israeli army targeted the house on purpose, since many times Israeli planes are able to selectively target small cars on busy streets without harming other vehicles.
Targeting Palestinian homes with people inside was a gruesome tactic used by Israel during its war on Gaza at the end of 2008. Last week's attack brought back bitter memories of that time. This feeling is enforced by the fact that Israel returned to its policy of attacking homes on Sunday night. One young girl was critically injured and her father was also injured when the occupation army fired a missile on a house in Al-Zeitoun neighbourhood. The attack could have had a worse outcome if it wasn't for the fact that the family was having a late night in the garden outside their house, and not inside the building.
Prominent Palestinian security sources told Al-Ahram Weekly that through these attacks the Israeli army is trying to instigate a confrontation with the Palestinian resistance, especially Hamas, in order to achieve specific goals. The sources added that targeting homes is part of a series of attacks by the occupation army that target military leaders of Palestinian resistance groups. In the afternoon of 8 December, Israel assassinated Essam Al-Batsh, 43, the leader of one of Fatah's military wings, and his nephew Sobhi, 20, a military activist in Hamas.
These killings were preceded by a clear escalation in incitement by Israeli generals to launch a new military attack on Gaza, similar to the last war in 2008. A number of Israeli generals who previously were in charge of the Southern Command of the Israeli army argued that a massive military campaign on the Gaza Strip is only a matter of time. These revelations coincided with Israeli media reports that large-scale military games are underway in the Negev Desert, Tasaelim region, by the Israel army to train for a military campaign against Gaza. This is the main training area for the occupation army.
General Yoav Galant, the former commander of the Southern Command, his predecessor General Dan Harel, and General Shmuel Tamir, the former commander of Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip, agreed that a military strike against Gaza is necessary because if the status quo remains it would mean surrendering to the fact that Gaza will be a threat for Israel, and deteriorating security conditions inside Israel. But it seems that the scenarios proposed by the three generals do not include any incentives for the leaders of security and political powers in Israel to launch a military attack on Gaza.
The main reason why Israel wants to quickly attack Gaza is because of the transformations taking place in the Arab world, especially Egypt. The debate in Israel indicates that the primary assumption that decision makers in Israel agree on is that the results of the first round of parliamentary elections in Egypt are very disturbing, because they show that the Muslim Brotherhood will play a leading role in shaping Egyptian policies in the coming phase.
Ron Ben-Yishai, a leading Israeli commentator, argues that decision makers in Tel Aviv know that Hamas is an extension of the Muslim Brotherhood and therefore they expect that Israel's ability to strike Hamas after conditions settle in Egypt will be limited. The assumption is that Egypt, under the Brotherhood, will not tolerate any Israeli step towards attacking the Gaza Strip, which makes the rulers of Israel want to take the initiative and quickly strike Hamas now.
There is another reason why Tel Aviv wants to hasten the attack on Gaza, essentially because there is an increasing chance that US President Barack Obama's will win a second term. Ari Shavit, a prominent Israeli analyst, states that decision makers in Israel anticipate that Obama will take a harder stance towards Netanyahu's government because it embarrassed him on purpose and unashamedly manipulates differences in US domestic politics. Also, because he realises that the conduct of Netanyahu's government has greatly harmed US interests in the region.
Shavit added that Netanyahu knows that he will be Obama's spoilt child until US presidential elections are held in November 2012, because the latter needs Jewish votes and campaign funds. But everything will change if Obama wins a second term because he will be free of re-election restraints. Hence, Netanyahu's government knows that it must quickly carry out any missions that require strong US support before the US elections to ensure Obama's backing, including a strike against Gaza. Some Israeli circles believe that if a final decision is taken to launch a military attack on Gaza or Hizbullah or Iran, this must happen before next November.
Retired Colonel Gabi Siboni, director of the Military and Strategic Affairs Programme at the Institute for National Security Studies in Israel, believes that international and regional conditions do not allow for a root solution such as missile attacks or destroying the infrastructure and human resources responsible for resistance operations in the Gaza Strip.
Also, political action is on hiatus and cannot result in understandings that would result in two key goals. First, restoring Israel's deterrence capability in light of its erosion at the end of the war Israel launched against Gaza at the end of 2008. Achieving this goal requires carrying out an overwhelming military strike against the "enemy" that would require it a long time to recover.
Siboni stated that the second goal is to limit the duration of the military campaign, especially by curbing the damages Israel would suffer. This requires long and difficult training on how to quickly eliminate the capabilities of Palestinian groups to launch rockets by taking control of areas where rockets are launched.
In order to limit the damage in Israel resulting from a military campaign, Siboni suggested strengthening the civic Israeli front to withstand rocket attacks by building electronic and actual shields around settlements that are expected to be the primary targets of rocket attacks.
Israeli leaders realise that achieving these goals requires working inside residential areas, since the Gaza Strip has the highest population density in the world. This means that achieving the above goals would result in immense damages for Palestinian civilians. But Tel Aviv knows that its international standing is at rock bottom and it is politically damaged since the last war on Gaza as a result of a very strong response to the Israeli onslaught, especially from Western public opinion.
Further complicating matters for Israel is the fact that Arab public opinion in the wake of democratic revolutions shows a heightened interest in Israel's actions, and will pressure Arab rulers to take action against Israel. Therefore, it is obviously in Israel's interest not to kill a large number of civilians in its coming attacks. Some Israeli military sources are even suggesting the evacuation of Palestinian civilians in all areas that will be targeted, to reduce damages, allowing the military campaign to proceed with minimal international and regional opposition.