First Published: 2009-01-17

Analysis: the Israeli plot against Gaza

Gaza events demonstrate how official Israeli justification for assault bears no basis to reality.


Middle East Online

By Jonathan Cook NAZARETH, Israel

But Israel will not archive its real goals

From diet to shoah

Israel has justified its assault on Gaza as entirely defensive, intended only to stop Hamas firing rockets on Israels southern communities. Although that line has been repeated unwaveringly by officials since Israel launched its attack on 27 December, it bears no basis to reality. Rather, this is a war against the Palestinians of Gaza, and less directly those in the West Bank, designed primarily to crush their political rights and their hopes of statehood.

The most glaring evidence contradicting the Israeli casus belli is the six-month ceasefire between Hamas and Israel that preceded the invasion. True, Hamas began firing its rockets as soon as the truce came to an end on 19 December, but Israel had offered plenty of provocation. Not least it broke the ceasefire by staging a raid into Gaza on 4 November that killed six Hamas members. Even more significantly, it maintained and tightened a blockade during the ceasefire period that was starving Gazas 1.5 million inhabitants of food, medicine and fuel. Hamas had expected the blockade lifted in return for an end to the rockets.

A few days before Israels attack on Gaza, Yuval Diskin, the head of Israels domestic security service, the Shin Bet, noted Hamas commitment to the ceasefire and its motives in restarting the rocket fire. Make no mistake, Hamas is interested in maintaining the truce, he told the cabinet. It seeks to improve its conditions a removal of the blockade, receiving a commitment from Israel that it wont attack and extending the lull to the Judea and Samaria area [the West Bank]. In other words, had Israel wanted calm, it could have avoided invading Gaza simply by renegotiating the truce on more reasonable terms.

Israel, however, had little interest in avoiding a confrontation with Hamas, as events since the Islamic groups takeover of Gaza in early 2006 show.

It is widely agreed among the Israeli leadership that Hamas represents a severe threat to Israels ambition to crush the Palestinians long-standing demands for a state in the West Bank and Gaza. Unike Fatah, its chief Palestinian political rival, Hamas has refused to collude with the Israeli occupation and has instead continued its resistance operations. Although Hamas officially wants the return of all the lands the Palestinians were dispossessed of in 1948, at the establishment of Israel, it has shown signs of increasing pragmatism since its election victory, as Diskins comments above highlight. Hamas leaders have repeatedly suggested that a long-term, possibly indefinite, truce with Israel is possible. Such a truce would amount to recognition of Israel and remove most of the obstacles to the partition of historic Palestine into two states: a Jewish state and a Palestinian one.

Rather than engaging with Hamas and cultivating its moderate wing, Israel has been preparing for an all-out war, as Ehud Barak, the defence minister, has referred to the current offensive. In fact, Barak began preparing the attack on Gaza at least six months ago, as he has admitted, and probably much earlier.

Barak and the military stayed their hand in Gaza chiefly while other strategies were tested. The most significant was an approach espoused in the immediate wake of Hamas victory in 2006. Dov Weisglass, former prime minister Ariel Sharons fixer in Washington, gave it clearest expression. Israels policy, he said, would be like an appointment with a dietician. The Palestinians will get a lot thinner, but wont die.

John Wolfensohn, envoy to the Quartet of the United States, the United Nations, Europe and Russia through most of 2005, has pointed out that the US and Israel reneged on understandings controlling the border crossings into Gaza from the moment of Israels disengagement in summer 2005. In an interview with the Israeli media, he attributed the rapid destruction of the Gazan economy to this policy. However, although the blockade began when Fatah was still in charge of the tiny enclave, the goal of Weisglass diet was to intensify the suffering of Gazas civilians. The rationale was that, by starving them, they could be both reduced to abject poverty and encouraged to rise up and overthrow Hamas.

But it seems the Israeli army was far from convinced a diet would produce the desired result and started devising a more aggressive strategy. It was voiced last year by Israels deputy defence minister, Matan Vilnai. He observed that, if Hamas continued firing rockets into Israel (in an attempt, though he failed to mention it, to break the blockade), the Palestinians will bring upon themselves a bigger shoah because we will use all our might to defend ourselves. The Hebrew word Shoah has come to refer exclusively to the Holocaust.

Though his disturbing comment was quickly disowned, Vilnai is no maverick. He is a former major general in the army who maintains close ties to the senior command. He is also a friend of his boss, Ehud Barak, the Labor leader and Israels most decorated soldier. The reference to the shoah offered a brief insight into the reasoning behind a series of policies he and Barak began unveiling from summer 2007.

It was then that hopes of engineering an uprising against Hamas faded. The diet regime had patently failed, as had a Fatah coup attempt underwritten by the United States. Hamas struck a pre-emptive blow against Fatah, forcing its leaders to flee to the West Bank. In retaliation the Israeli government declared Gaza a hostile entity. Barak and Vilnai used Gazas new status as the pretext for expanding the blockade of food and medicines to include electricity, a policy that was progressively tightened. At the same time they argued that Israel should consider cutting off all responsibility for Gaza. The intenton of Baraks blockade, however, was different from the Weisglass version. It was designed to soften up Gazan society, including Hamas fighters, for Israels coming invasion.

Far from being threatened by the intensifying blockade, Hamas turned it to its advantage. Although Israel controls two of the land borders and patrols the coast, there is fourth short land border shared with Egypt, close by the town of Rafah. There Gazas entrepreneurs developed a network of smuggling tunnels that were soon commandeered by Hamas. The tunnels ensured both that basic supplies continued to get through, and that Hamas armed itself for the attack it expected from Israel.

From March 2008 Barak and Vilnai began pushing their military strategy harder. New political formulations agreed by the government suggested the whole population of Gaza were to be considered complicit in Hamas actions, and therefore liable for retaliatory military action. In the words of the daily Jerusalem Post newspaper, Israeli policymakers took the view that it would be pointless for Israel to topple Hamas because the population [of Gaza] is Hamas.

At this point, Barak and Vilnai announced they were working on a way to justify in law the army directing artillery fire and air strikes at civilian neighbourhoods of Gaza, as has been occurring throughout the current Gaza campaign. Vilnai, meanwhile, proposed declaring areas of the tiny enclave combat zones in which the army would have free rein and from which civilians would be expected to flee again a tactic that has been implemented over the past three weeks.

Although Israel is determined to crush Hamas politically and militarily, so far it has been loathe to topple it. Israel withdrew from Gaza precisely because the demographic, military and economic costs of directly policing its refugee camps were considered too high. It will not be easily dragged back in.

Other options are either unpalatable or unfeasible. A Fatah government riding in on the back of Israeli tanks would lack legitimacy, and no regime at all anarchy risks loosing forces more implacably opposed to a Jewish state than Hamas, including al-Qaeda. Placing Gaza under a peacekeeping force faces other hurdles: not least, the question of which countries would be prepared to take on such a dangerous burden.

Instead Israel is planning to resort to its favourite diplomatic manoeuvre: unilateralism. It wants a solution that passes over the heads of Hamas and the Palestinians. Or as Tzipi Livni, the foreign minister, put it: There is no intention here of creating a diplomatic agreement with Hamas. We need diplomatic agreements against Hamas. The formula currently being sought for a ceasefire will face opposition from Israel unless it helps achieve several goals.

Israels first is to seal off Gaza properly this time. Egypt, although profoundly uncomfortable at having an Islamic group ruling next door, is under too much domestic pressure to crack down on the tunnelling. Israel therefore wants to bring in American and European experts to do the job. They will ensure that the blockade cannot be broken and that Hamas cannot rearm with the the help of outside actors like Iran. At best, Hamas can hope to limp on as nominal ruler of Gaza, on Israeli sufferance.

The second goal has been well articulated by the Harvard scholar Sara Roy, who has been arguing for some time that Israel is, in her words, de-developing Gaza. The blockade has been integral to achieving that objective, and is the reason Israel wants it strengthened. In the longer term, she believes, Gazans will come to be seen merely as a humanitarian problem, beggars who have no political identity and therefore can have no political claims.

In addition, Gazans living close to the enclaves northern and southern borders may be progressively herded into central Gaza as envisioned in Vilnais plan last year. That process may already be under way, with Israeli leafletting campaigns warning inhabitants of these areas to flee. Israel wants to empty both the Rafah area, so that it can monitor more easily any attempts at tunnelling, and the northern part because this is the location of the rocket launches that are hitting major Israeli cities such as Ashkelon and Ashdod and may one day reach Tel Aviv.

The third and related goal, as Barak and Vilnai proposed more than a year ago, is to cut off all Israeli responsibility for Gaza -- though not oversight of what is allowed in. Ghassan Khatib, a Palestinian analyst, believes that in this scenario Israel will insist that humanitarian supplies into Gaza pass only through the Egyptian crossing, thereby also undercutting Hamas role. Already Israel is preparing to hand over responsibility for supplying Gazas electricity to Egypt a special plant is under construction close by in the Sinai.

Slowly, the hope is, Gazas physical and political separation from the West Bank will be cemented, with the enclave effectively being seen as a province of Egypt. Its inhabitants will lose their connection to the wider Palestinian people and eventually Cairo may grow bold enough to crack down on Hamas as brutally as it does its own Islamists.

The regime of Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank, meanwhile, will be further isolated and weakened, improving Israels chances of forcing it to sign a deal annexing East Jerusalem and large swaths of the West Bank on which the Jewish settlements sit.

The fourth goal relates to wider regional issues. The chief obstacle to the implementation of Israels plan is the growing power of Iran and its possible pursuit of nuclear weapons. Israels official concern that Tehran wants to attack Israel is simple mischief-making. Rather Israel is worried that, if Iran becomes a regional superpower, Israeli diktats in the Middle East and in Washington will not go unchallenged.

In particular, a strong Iran will be able to aid Hezbollah and Hamas, and further fan the flames of popular Muslim sentiment in favour of a just settlement for the Palestinians. That could threaten Israels plans for the annexation of much of the West Bank, and possibly win the Palestinians statehood. None of this can be allowed to pass by Israel.

It is therefore seeking to isolate Tehran, severing all ties between it and Hamas, just as it earlier tried and failed to do the same between Iran and Hezbollah. It wants the Palestinians beholden instead to the moderate block in the Arab world, meaning the Sunni dictatorships like Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia that in turn depend on Washington for their security.

The prospects of Israel achieving all or even some of these goals seems improbable. Too often Israeli meddling in its neighbours affairs has ended in unintended consequences, or blowback. It is a lesson Israel has been all too slow to learn.

Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest books is "Disappearing Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human Despair" (Zed Books). His website is A Polish translation of this article was published in Przekroj magazine (Warsaw).


Saudi to carry out nuclear power deal with or without US

Rebels evacuate Syria's Eastern Ghouta

Air strikes hit Ghouta despite rebel ceasefire effort

US approves $1 billion in Saudi defence contracts

Exiled Syrian doctors treat refugees in Turkey

Turkey says EU statements on Cyprus 'unacceptable'

In world first, flight to Israel crosses Saudi airspace

Saudi, US must pursue 'urgent efforts' for Yemen peace: Mattis

US, Jordan launch new counterterrorism training centre

Turkey’s largest media group to be sold to Erdogan ally

Two Hamas security force members killed in raid on bomb suspect

Turkey gives watchdog power to block internet broadcasts

EU leaders to condemn Turkey’s ‘illegal’ actions in Mediterranean

Sarkozy says life ‘living hell’ since corruption allegations

Hezbollah leader says debt threatens Lebanon disaster

Ahed Tamimi reaches plea deal for eight months in jail

UN launching final push to salvage Libya political agreement

Conditions for displaced from Syria's Ghouta 'tragic': UN

Sisi urges Egyptians to vote, denies excluding rivals

Rights Watch says Libya not ready for elections

Saudis revamp school curriculum to combat Muslim Brotherhood

American mother trapped in Syria’s Ghouta calls out Trump

Syria workers say French firm abandoned them to jihadists

Grim Nowruz for Kurds fleeing Afrin

Sarkozy back in custody for second day of questioning

'Saudization' taking its toll on salesmen

Syrian rebels reach evacuation deal in Eastern Ghouta town

Israel confirms it hit suspected Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007

UN says Turkey security measures 'curtail human rights'

Netanyahu says African migrants threaten Jewish majority

US Senate votes on involvement in Yemen war as Saudi prince visits

What a ‘limited strike’ against Syria’s Assad might mean

Erdogan tells US to stop ‘deceiving’, start helping on Syria

IS controls Damascus district in surprise attack

French ex-president held over Libya financing allegations

NGO says Israeli army violating Palestinian minors’ rights

Human rights chief slams Security Council for inaction on Syria

US warns Turkey over civilians caught in Syria assault

Saudi crown prince keen to cement ties with US

Abbas calls US ambassador to Israel 'son of a dog'

Erdogan vows to expand Syria op to other Kurdish-held areas

Kurdish envoy accuses foreign powers of ignoring Turkish war crimes

Morocco authorities vow to close Jerada's abandoned mines

Israeli soldier sees manslaughter sentence slashed

Turkey insists no plans to remain in Afrin