Israel: No stomach for war?

Haitham Ahmed , Thursday 19 Jul 2018

According to Palestinian analysts, Israel is exhausted by the March of Return and incendiary kites, but is not interested in all-out war

Palestinian protesters, Gaza
Palestinian protesters fly a kite with a burning rag dangling from its tail during a protest in Gaza. Activists use kites with burning rags to set ablaze drying wheat fields on the Israeli side (Photo: AP)

There is calm and cautious anticipation in the Gaza Strip since the Israeli cabinet authorised the occupation army to respond with military force to every paper plane or kite launched from Gaza towards fields in Israel.

Palestinian analysts agree it is unclear what the future holds, and everything is possible, especially after Israel refused a “truce” with Gaza while incendiary kites fly overhead.

Tel Aviv claims these primitive weapons have caused grave losses for settler farmers, justifying a continued escalation and tightening harsh siege on Gaza.

The Palestinian resistance responded by escalating rocket attacks targeting settlements surrounding Gaza, sending a message to the occupation that resistance remains strong.

Observers believe Israel’s threats of all-out war are only for media consumption, exercising pressure, engaging in psychological war and appeasing settlers. They note that realities on the ground indicates that neither Hamas nor Israel will go to war, but tit-for-tat retaliation will continue.

Neftali Bennet, the powerful education minister in Netanyahu’s government, said he does not accept a truce or ceasefire that does not include an end to the March of Return and attacks by kites.

Early this week, the Israeli army said it recalled several reserve officers and deployed more batteries of the Iron Dome air defense system in Tel Aviv and on the border with Gaza.

The army added it is determined to continue protecting Israeli citizens and “is prepared for any scenario and escalation depending on the situation and operational needs”.

Responding to concerns about worse conditions in the future, Rassem Obeidat, a writer and political analyst, said: “Until this moment, we cannot say the situation is devolving into all-out war by Israel on the Gaza Strip.” Obeidat noted that the occupation understands that no political or military gains will be made from such a war, and Israel’s domestic front cannot withstand a long-term battle.

Hamas and the Islamic Jihad said they reached a ceasefire agreement among Palestinian factions in Gaza amid heavy air strikes by Israel on the Gaza Strip that killed two children and injured 25 others.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said earlier that Israel dealt “a severe blow” to Hamas, threatening more strikes if needed. Israeli air force officials said the strikes on Gaza are the largest since Operation Protective Edge, in the summer of 2014.

Commenting on the direct response by the resistance and the tit-for-tat strategy, Obeidat said: “Despite the siege, the resistance is able to do serious damage to Israel’s domestic front.

All the enemy is trying to do is put pressure on Palestinian resistance to change the rules of engagement, including ending the tit-for-tat and launching burning paper planes and kites at settlements by Gaza.”

While UN Special Envoy Nikolai Mladinov said that war was going to break out due to escalation between Palestinian factions and the occupation army, several parties intervened to defuse the situation and resolve it without extensive confrontations and destruction from which no winner would emerge.

Speaking at a news conference in Gaza, Mladinov said that escalating problems in Gaza, especially economic ones, are certain to lead to a new war if they are not addressed.

Mladinov believes the Gaza crisis can be resolved via three elements: security for all; improved humanitarian conditions; and a political solution.

He added that the UN has a precise plan to reach such a solution if all parties cooperate, namely Palestinian factions, Israel and Egypt in support.

Political analyst Walid Al-Qutati said that “despite the exorbitant price we paid, and continue to pay, in lives and blood (most recently the young children Amir Al-Nimra and Loay Kahil), and the life and future of our youth, we have no other choice.

The alternative of not responding to attacks tit-for-tat will be much higher. At a minimum, it would change the rules of engagement in favour of the enemy and make Gaza vulnerable to repeated attacks at will. What is even more important is upholding a status that Israel has been unable to break in decades, whereby it is unable to achieve victory while the resistance insists on preventing defeat.”

Al-Qutati added that Israel never achieved a clear and definitive defeat against the Arabs despite its first three wars (the Nakba, the Tripartite Aggression and the Naksa in 1967) which established the borders and existence of the hostile state.

Its first shock was in October 1973 when it was unable to achieve a military victory against the Arabs.

Then began a phase of wars against Palestinian and Lebanese resistance. But the Israeli army was forced out of Lebanon in 2000. It was defeated again in the second Lebanon war in 2006.

In Palestine, the 1987 stone-throwing Intifada marked a transition, with Israeli failing to halt the uprising it militarily. In 2000, Al-Aqsa Intifada began, followed by the withdrawal of the occupation army in Gaza under pressure from the resistance in 2005.

Israel was also unable to achieve its military and political goals in three wars on Gaza since 2008, confirming that victory is impossible over the resistance.

Al-Qutati said: “Israel will never achieve victory over the Palestinian people and their courageous resistance. The resistance heroically insists on preventing defeat by the enemy. The resistance goes even further, trying to achieve victory through reviving the Palestinian national project based on liberation, the right of return and steadfastness – for the people to stand fast on the land of Palestine, and continue all forms of resistance until victory, God willing.”

Talal Abu Rokba, a political analyst and expert on Palestinian affairs, said Gaza was and continues to be the spearhead confronting plots to abort the Palestinian cause.

This is due to three factors. Geographically, it is located in the crossfire between Egypt’s National Security and Israeli National Security.

Second, Gaza is resource poor and densely populated.

Third, the majority of Gazans are refugees who were expelled and displaced from their homes during ethnic cleansing by Zionist gangs.

Refugees account for 75 per cent of Gazans, and unlike other displaced Palestinians, the homes they were expelled from are within sight. This makes identity a strong sentiment for Palestinians in Gaza.

Abu Rokba said recent events are a way to settle the score with Gaza and its residents, especially after the March of Return. Israel’s political view of these marches is based on three principles.

First, segregating the West Bank and Gaza Strip so they have separate futures, especially since these marches are limited to Gaza.

Second, those in charge of the West Bank are bound to conditions of security coordination with Israel.

Third, those in charge in Gaza must shoulder their responsibility for administering the territory and securing the border with Israel.

Abu Rokba said this is the core of Israel’s strategy towards Gaza, which was adopted by Ariel Sharon, and continues to be applied by his successors: segregation, creating a fait accompli on the ground, and deterrence.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 19 July 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: No stomach for war

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