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Sunday, January 18, 2009


What was (is) Israel's purpose in assaulting Gaza?

With a temporary lull in Israel's assault on Gaza, and, as predicted, dozens if not hundreds of bodies being pulled from the rubble, it's an appropriate time to ask, what was the purpose of this assault? Israel claims it was to "stop rocket firing," and no doubt they did attempt to destroy smuggling tunnels and kill some Hamas fighters. But the current totals of dead - 1206 Palestinians including 415 children, 110 women and 115 elderly - not to mention the targets of the attack - hospitals, schools, UN headquarters, food warehouses - have to cause one to question more deeply. More than 50% of the dead were civilians not including a single adult male, meaning that the real civilian casualties are probably in the 75% range at least. Tens or hundreds of thousands of civilians are homeless, their homes having been demolished by Israeli attacks. Such things do not happen by "accident," and they don't happen because Hamas militants just "happen" to be firing rockets or conducting sniper attacks from inside or nearby such targets. They happen deliberately.

No doubt some of the time Israeli tanks were indeed firing at snipers etc. But one has to think about that. Who picked the battlefield? Hamas snipers don't fire at people in Sderot. Hamas snipers and other fighters were resisting the invasion of their land, and of course they have to do so by being in the same place as the invaders. So when a tank was in position to fire at a Hamas militant in front of, say, a school (if indeed that ever happened), it happened because the tank came to the school in the first place (and, obviously, because the tank entered Gaza in the first place).

As an aside, I mentioned above the destruction of some of the smuggling tunnels, and no doubt those tunnels have been used to smuggle in weapons to Gaza. But they have also, and primarily, been used to smuggle in vital goods including food and fuel into Gaza, and have formed a vital part of the thin line keeping Gazans alive. Their destruction can also be seen as part of a strategy to increase the pain on the civilian population.

In the end, one can only conclude that the destruction of civilians and civilian infrastructure was a deliberate result of, and indeed goal of, the invasion. Of course this can't be proved without the secret minutes of the Israeli cabinet. But it is a reasonable conclusion, and that conclusion isn't just based on the results. We have to recall that for nearly two years prior to the assault, ever since the election of Hamas, making civilians suffer ("putting them on a diet" in the arrogant and infamous words of Olmert adviser Dov Weinglass) has been a proudly stated policy of Israel. And, we must note, that policy, while enforced on the ground by Israel, has been aggressively seconded and promoted politically at the U.N. and around the world by the U.S., U.K., and their allies.

But after nearly two years, and more than 241 Palestian patients (and probably a lot more) dead directly as a result of the Israeli seige and the unavailability of medicine and/or medical care (and, of course, far more pain experienced by the Palestinian population beyond that one statistic, thanks to the wholesale destruction of the Palestinian economy caused by the blockade), that diet had succeeded in punishing the Palestinian people almost beyond belief, but hadn't done a thing to dent Hamas' popularity. It was time to escalate the pain, and make the Palestinian people really suffer, and die, in the hope that that would finally push Hamas from power and enable the installation of a pliant client like Abbas who would be willing to finally agree to humiliating terms for a two-state settlement, with the wall, Israeli-only roads, checkpoints, etc. remaining in place in the West Bank, along with all the major settlements and probably many of the minor ones as well, sacrificing only the "illegal" (as if they aren't all illegal) "outposts." And even if the result wasn't/isn't immediate in terms of ousting Hamas, now there is speculation that all the rebuilding money (such as it will be, doled out with an eyedropper) will be funneled through Fatah and the PA, thus supposedly ingratiating themselves to the population of Gaza.

Is this a strategy likely to succeed? I would say it's highly unlikely. So why did the Israelis pursue this strategy? Because they had no better option.

That's what I think. How about you?

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