Israel's narrowing options
The spread of democratic revolutions in the Arab world has already blunted the usual belligerence of Israel, writes Saleh Al-Naami
It was 10.30am last Saturday when the mobile phone of an official closely linked with Ismail Haniyeh, the prime minister of Gaza, rang. On the other end of the line was an official in the Egyptian Foreign Ministry. The two men spoke for 25 minutes, discussing ways of preventing renewed Israeli attacks on Gaza. Israel's army had already attacked civilian targets in Gaza and resistance movements retaliated with attacks on Israeli cities situated near Gaza, including Beersheba and Ashdod. Thirteen Palestinians died in the recent attacks.
Soon after that call, Haniyeh gathered some of his ministers and key figures of Hamas for further discussion on the situation. Everyone agreed to accept Egypt's offer of mediation. Subsequently, the Egyptians got in touch with the Americans and the Israelis and managed to reactivate the undeclared "period of calm" that used to exist between Palestinian factions and Israel. In response, Hamas called a meeting with representatives of Palestinian factions and invited the media to witness the discussion. The meeting ended in a pledge to observe the "calm" so long as Israel does the same.
The attacks didn't stop immediately, however. On Sunday morning, two members of Islamic Jihad were killed in northern Gaza, having been fired upon by a pilotless drone. Israel claimed that the men were getting ready to fire rockets, something that Jihad denies. Apart from that, it seems that the Israelis and Palestinians are eager to restore the "calm". Generally speaking, the Palestinian public and media remain unaware of the role Egypt played behind the scenes to stave off attacks on Gaza. But for the first time in years, there has been great satisfaction in Gaza over Egypt's official statements.
When Foreign Minister Nabil El-Arabi warned Israel last Thursday of the consequences of attacking Gaza, the Palestinians were thrilled. El-Arabi's statement was brief, but it drew a lot of comments among the Palestinian public, and many started comparing his tone with that of his predecessor, Ahmed Abul-Gheit. Suleiman Al-Awawdah, 53, owner of a workshop in Nuseirat Refugee Camp, said that El-Arabi's statements dissuaded Israel from taking large-scale action against Gaza. Other factors, however, may have combined to thwart Israel's belligerent tendencies.
The initial reaction of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was that Israel was "capable and willing" of stopping "terrorism". But he later qualified his statement, noting that his government was "interested in maintaining the calm". Israel's options have particularly dwindled following recent changes in the Arab world. The range of actions that was once available to Israel is narrowing. Israeli military commentator Alon Ben- David believes that Israel can no longer antagonise the Arabs with impunity. A major operation in Gaza would incur such a violent reaction by the Arab public that Arab governments would be forced to take extreme measures against Israel.
In statements to Israel's Channel 10, Ben-David said that Egypt has the power to harm Israel, its security and its economy. And the international community is unlikely to blame it if it does. "It is true that the Egyptians are now busy with their own domestic affairs and are leaving Israel alone. But a major operation in Gaza would send demonstrators into Cairo streets... and the Egyptian Military Council would find it hard to not listen to them. Remember that Hosni Mubarak and Omar Suleiman are no longer in power," Ben-David remarked.
Israel should tone down its "appetite for vengeance," concluded another analyst. Former Mossad chief Danny Yatom said that Israel should be particularly wary of the mood in Jordan, which he called Israel's most crucial ally in the region. The loss of Jordanian regime, from Israel's point of view, would be much worse than the toppling of Mubarak's regime. Yatom reminded the Israelis that Jordan has the longest borders with Israel and that many Israelis live close to its borders. "Let's not give the nationalists and the Islamists ammunition with which to attack the Hashemite regime at this particular moment," Yatom advised his countrymen.
Israel's refusal to freeze settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem has come back to haunt it. Israel had alienated many of its friends over the settlements issue, and as a result can no longer rely on their international backing. Amnon Abramovich, a journalist with Israel Channel 2, said that Netanyahu has exercised self-restraint so far, but that's partly because he had no other options. Israel's isolation makes it hard for the prime minister to rally regional and international support for attacks against the Palestinians. Netanyahu is "lost and doesn't know what to do about Hamas, aside from waiting," Abramovich stated.
According to Abramovich, Israel is more isolated than at any time before in its history. Consequently, its ability to punish Palestinian factions has been reduced. On Monday, Israel's former Justice Minister Yossi Beilin wrote in Israel Today that it would be wrong to assume that Israel's last offensive in Gaza had deterred the Palestinian resistance. Israel has nothing to gain from another war, and everything to lose. The world is in no mood to see children being killed by Israeli bombs. An Israeli attack on Gaza would be so embarrassing to Obama that the US president may refrain from vetoing a Security Council resolution against Israel, Beilin remarked.
In an article recently published in Maariv, the rightwing writer Ben-Dror Yemini warned of the consequences of another attack on Gaza on the scale of the Molten Lead operation two years ago. Contrary to the widespread impression, Yemini said, the recent war in Gaza was a big failure for Israel. On the domestic Palestinian scene, it was evident that the Israeli military escalation has hampered reconciliation efforts. Netanyahu has already told Mahmoud Abbas that he needs to choose between Hamas and Israel.
Still, things are bound to change for Israel. Its reluctance to strike back at Gaza is just the beginning. From now on, it will have to think twice before unleashing its war machine on the Palestinians. As democracy spreads in the Arab world, Israel's appetite for aggression is likely to subside
The link: http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2011/1041/re3.htm.