Splendide Mendax (Splendidly Wrong)!
When I look at the latest developments in Gaza I cannot think of another title. Quite often I think that the whole “Palestinian Issue” is a splendidly, albeit wrongly, shaped diplomatic riddle. However, beyond of the broader generalisations, especially the latest escalation is nothing but the tragic result of a series of miscalculated interactions that were undertaken by two selfish leaderships which, even if they know what objectives they are after, they lack the means to reach them.
Many compare the current escalation with the offensive of 2008-2009, or even the one of November 2012, but the truth is that this time things are rather different. In December 2008 Hamas had Gaza under its control for only a year and a half and thus many could consider that its rule was both fragile and reversible. At that time Hamas refused to renew a truce so as to bargain better terms. Under this pretext, and while preparatory contacts were being made, Israel implemented a premeditated plan and attacked Hamas with unprecedented force. During the first day of “Operation Cast Lead” Israel dealt the most serious blows on its enemy of the whole offensive because it targeted the buildings where the new police officers of Hamas local administration were reporting for duty for the first (and last) time. The very fact that such ceremonies were taking place demonstrates how little the Palestinian side was expecting an offensive of this magnitude. In 2012 Telaviv again deliberately escalated the tension by assassinating Ahmed Jabari, the head of Hamas’s military wing. On this occasion, Israel chose to inflate the tension for two very specific reasons. On the one hand it wanted to test the anti-ballistic system “Iron Dome” and on the other hand it wanted to assess the reactions of the then Islamist Egyptian President Morsi. Now there does not seem to be any proportionate strategic or tactical goal that justifies the ongoing bloodshed.
The currently developing tragedy is nothing but the worst possible outcome of a macabre game theory model. The general situation in Gaza is a case reminiscent of a powder-keg placed amidst an environment of luxuriant and dry vegetation. Unless the advisable measures are taken, an accidental explosion is only a matter of time. And this is what happened in this volatile region of the planet during the last weeks. To be sure, Netanyahu did not face any serious problem which would make him opt for escalation. As for Hamas, its leaders, because of the deteriorating economic conditions in Gaza, decided to enter into an essential dialogue with Fatah even if that meant that its absolute rule over the Gaza Strip would somehow be diminished.
On that concurrence a collective hunger strike was observed by hundreds of Palestinian prisoners who are detained in Israeli prisons. Such initiatives occur relatively often and there is no indication that this particular mobilisation was dictated by Hamas’s cadres. Then, and in the midst of a developing popular indignation against Israel, three young settlers were abducted in the West Bank. Netanyahu, in his effort to show to the international community how counter-productive was the decision of the latter to recognise the nascent Palestinian national unity government, blamed Hamas for the abduction although he lacked concrete evidence to support his claims. From its part, Hamas denied the accusations but, in order to appear ideologically consistent, it hailed the operation. Thereafter, a young Palestinian was abducted and immolated to death by Israeli extremists. The Israeli authorities arrested the culprits but of course they neither sealed whole areas for their detection, nor did they demolish their families’ houses as they systematically do for all Palestinian suspects. In the tragic death of the Palestinian youngster Hamas saw an opportunity for a third Intifada in the West Bank and, therefore, conceded to the launching of a limited number of rockets towards Israel from Gaza. It is worth noting that Hamas is a product of the first Palestinian uprising and during the second its popularity skyrocketed and thus it managed to win the 2006 legislative elections. A potential outbreak of a third Intifada, with its epicentre being the West Bank, would give Hamas political points regarding its domestic competition with Fatah. The latter, exactly because of that, under no circumstances did it desire to see the areas it partly controls to become a theatre of confrontation with the Israeli army and, therefore, the Palestinian security forces, which were trained by the US General Dayton, did everything so as to contain rallies and demonstrations in the cities of the West Bank. At the same time, Israel started to respond to Hamas’s provocations and thus, despite the absence of a clear strategic or tactical objective, two short-sighted leaderships left the tension to escalate leading us to the current impasse and to Shajaiyya’s massacre.
Israel likes to put the responsibility for whatever it happens to the supposedly intransigent Hamas. No combatant can ever be free of responsibilities and of course it needs two to tango but to blame Hamas and its rockets for the specific escalation it is as if you accuse a woman of violent behaviour because she slaps her rapist. The state of Israel and its current leadership have the lion’s share of the responsibility for this unnecessary bloodshed and, whether we like it or not, it is them the ones who will decide when this malice will end.
If one looks at the website of Hamas’s military wing he will soon get the roof of the militants’ aspirations. On the background of the page, which was designed especially for the current round of aggression, one sees sketches of military and civilian infrastructure destroyed by the group’s artillery. This very scenery, however, hardly reflects the operational reality. Hamas may have updated its rockets, increased their range, improved their accuracy and built more secure and concealed silos but the “Iron Dome” system limits significantly the efficiency of Gaza launched rockets. Some share the view that if Hamas’s missiles were not intercepted and if there were considerable causalities and damage in an area ranging from Sderot to Haifa, then Israel would concede to a ceasefire faster and with more ease. Yet, the truth is that this is a short-sighted perspective. If Israeli cities were subject to such strikes then the superiority of Israel’s war machine would have to be expressed on Gaza with an exponentially more cruel way that it is being done now. Hamas leaders, since 2012, are aware of how efficient is the Israeli anti-ballistic system and deep down, this knowledge relieves them, for if things were different then their risky politics would come hand in hand with greater potential costs.
From the early days of the current crisis diplomatic efforts aiming at a reaching a ceasefire were reported. The basic reason of their failure is the very fact that the engaged parts felt that they were in a position to derive more gains from their foes and this situation allowed the emergence of some hypocritical truce proposals. Hence, it was circulated that Egypt put forward a deal, which Israel quickly accepted, that asked for an imminent end of hostilities and the commence of talks aiming to secure the demilitarisation of Gaza. Hamas, which claimed that it was not officially informed, rejected the initiative and instead announced that it supported the Qatari proposal. According to the latter, the ceasefire would be matched with the end of the enclave’s trade embargo, the opening of all the crossings, the reactivation of the area’s port and the permission of Gaza residents to visit and pray inside Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque. Both of the alleged proposals are maximalistic, unrealistic and destined for domestic consumption. Recent experience has showed that the ceasefire, which sooner or later will be brokered, will be accompanied by some vague and lax pledges, which will not be observed, for the progressive opening of Rafah’s crossing and the control of Hamas’s arsenal. No significant political change is likely to come when this crisis will be over and this is what makes the whole issue look more like a splendidly shaped mistake. The only factors that can speed up the reaching of a truce are the suspicion of a victory for the “resistance” of Hamas and one, beyond the accepted levels, Israeli massacre which could potentially isolate it in the international forums. That being said, let us hope that the demise of the 18 IDF soldiers during the weekend and the alleged detention of one more (probably the case pertains to the seizure of a dead body) and the slaughter of Shajaiyya’s will prove enough to mobilise the two selfish leaderships to move forward and end this illogical and totally unnecessary round of bloodshed.