After 170 Palestinians had been killed and thousands wounded, both Israel and Hamas recognized that incessant loss of human life had to stop. Palestinian Authority, of course, did not want that. Hamas threatens their political dominance. PA views any cooperation between Hamas and Israel as a threat to itself.
In the face of opposition from the PA, Israel and Hamas took steps in the right direction. Hamas agreed to tone down the skirmishes at the Gazan-Israeli border. In return, Israel agreed to allow a shipment of diesel to be delivered to power plants in Gaza and $15 million in cash from Qatar.
After some time, border skirmishes went down, in part because of Hamas’ calls and in part due to unprecedented positive steps by the Netanyahu administration. It wasn’t a landmark deal by any means. Allowing diesel into Gaza meant that Palestinians could have electricity albeit for less than 12 hours a day. It also solved an economic crisis facing the Hamas government. Getting funding from Qatar enabled the Hamas government pay salaries to policemen and civil servants that had been due for months.
Fewer border skirmishes meant that thousands of acres of farmland burned by homemade Palestinian projectiles could begin to rehabilitate. It also led to a calm in the civilian areas on both sides of the border. Prior to reaching the deal, as dire a situation as Hamas was in, it was the Israelis under the most pressure.
Hamas does not mind public discord too much. They use the frustration and hopelessness of the Palestinians as a means to inspire terrorist attacks against the Israeli citizens. It is precisely this discord and despair that both Hamas and the PA use to legitimize their despotic rule.
As reported in a recent HRW report, both Hamas and its’ rival, the Palestinian Authority, monitor online activities of Palestinians. They reprimand their critics with torture, arrests, relentless inquiries, and threats. It doesn’t mean that there was no pressure on Hamas, it’s just that pressure on Israel was more so.
Israelis living on the Gaza border were asking PM Netanyahu to ease the constant threat they lived under. As you know, Netanyahu’s is a coalition government. Even though he is most far-right Israeli PM in history, there are politicians even to the right of him. They struck a chord with Israelis who opposed any deal with Hamas and wanted to respond with full force.
Netanyahu, who rarely misses an opportunity to ‘mow the lawn‘, showed unprecedented caution. He said that he didn’t see what could be gained from another war in Gaza. Thus, he wanted to end the skirmishes amicably. So came the Egypt mediated deal that left both sides content. However, Israeli civilians living along the border felt differently. They saw the deal as a capitulation by Israel. Netanyahu despite his hard stances in the past, faced criticism. But on the international level, most if not all welcomed the diplomacy between Hamas and Israel.
Once Hamas and Israel reached a deal, there were no exchanges of fire for a while. No rockets landed in Israeli schools. No Israeli missiles hit civilian targets in Gaza. Then, Israel resumed its’ old ways.
Israeli officials posing as civilians with some soldiers in women’s clothing entered Gaza. Upon being discovered, they opened fire killing 6 Palestinians. One of those killed just happened to be a Hamas commander. Israelis then brought in air support and tanks.
In the end, one Israeli soldier died while all others escaped. Hamas seeing their territory infringed upon resumed its’ attack on Israel. They fired over 400 rockets into Israel. One of them hit a bus carrying Israeli soldiers. But luckily, Hamas waited till the bus was empty before letting one fly. Even then, it injured a 19-year-old Israeli soldier, whom I think has since died.
Israel fired only around 120 missiles but they were precision-guided so inflicted greater injury. Israel targeted TV stations, kindergarten, and other facilities. They specifically targeted tall buildings and reduced them to rubble.
NYTimes reported that Palestinians had received advanced warnings to evacuate. What they didn’t publish was the accounts from civilians who said that they were warned 1-minute before the bombing. One family said that they received a call at 4:30 in the morning. The call just told them that they had a minute to leave their home.
The NYTimes has made multiple references to the warnings beforehand since the exchange of fire started on Sunday. However, they are yet to mention to the incredibly short time the civilians are given to flee. And the call to flee is reported as something of a virtue from Israel. Where would you flee to if your home was destroyed? Most people only have one home and sometimes not even that.
The aim was to send Palestinians a message that if you are not subservient, worse will follow. Such a tactic is a textbook example of terrorism.
As per the US code and Army manuals, terrorism is:
“the calculated use of violence or the threat of violence to attain goals that are political, religious or ideological in nature… through intimidation, coercion or instilling fear.”
“the calculated use of violence or the threat of violence to attain goals that are political, religious or ideological in nature… through intimidation, coercion or instilling fear.”-US Code and Army ManualsThe aim of Israeli attack was to instill into Palestinians that Israeli forces can intrude into Palestinian territory without eliciting objections from the Palestinians.
Conversely, imagine if a carload of Hamas officials in women’s clothing entered Israel. When an Israeli commander confronted them, they opened fire and killed him. Not only that, they called for reinforcement leading to the loss of 6 Israeli lives, and somehow escaped to Gaza. How severe would the Israeli reaction be? Would anyone blame Israel for reacting with force?
Hamas’ response wasn’t justifiable either. People who defend retaliatory strikes and willful targeting of civilians don’t have a leg to stand on. But this scenario does convey Israel’s willingness to risk their peace deal with Hamas.
We haven’t had a definitive account as to the ‘official’ aims of the operation. But current and ex Israeli officials claim that it was a routine operation.
What happened was a disgrace. In the face of growing dialogue between Hamas and Israel, there was no need of such a covert operation. Even though Israeli media downplayed the significance of such an operation in Hamas, the Prime Minister had to approve them first. So it wasn’t just something that happened without Netanyahu’s knowledge. Under Israeli protocol, he must have approved the covert operation himself.
As unwarranted and shortsighted Netanyahu’s move, it wasn’t much of a surprise coming from someone who had vowed that there wouldn’t ‘be a Palestinian state in his lifetime‘.
But credit where credit is due, PM Netanyahu prevented a lot of death and destruction by accepting Egypt’s and Hamas’ calls for a ceasefire. Since then, the Israeli defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman, has resigned. His resignation took away five parliamentary seats from the government.
Netanyahu knew that there would be political costs for accepting the truce despite that he accepted it. Israeli civilians living on the Gaza border protested and called for a tougher action against Hamas. It could potentially lead to early elections as Netanyahu’s coalition government lives on a slim Parliamentarian majority with 61 seats off 120. Even if elections take place at their specified time, Netanyahu’s hard right base might look for someone to the right of him.
Going forward, Hamas shouldn’t use Palestinian discord for political ends. If Netanyahu could set a precedent by preferring peace over politics for once, Hamas should too.
These are literal diplomatic baby steps we are talking about but not any less welcomed. It might lead to nothing.
Or it might be that Netanyahu is showing restraint only to get the Arab states to recognize Israel. He already has flown to Oman with his Sports Minister visiting a mosque in UAE. It could all be a political ploy by Netanyahu to surrender 5 seats in the Parliament this year to win an extra 25 in 2019.
Hamas and Israeli leadership have gone on to commit worse atrocities after showing subtle signs of reforms. But still one can hope…