Israel initiates escalation, Gazans pay the price

The stronger Israel gets, the less it seems willing to search for diplomatic initiatives that would ease tension around its southern border

You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist in order to wonder what led Israel to initiate the current military escalation, which has taken the lives of at least 21 Palestinians in the last five days and had dozens more injured. Several Israelis have also been injured from rockets fired at southern Israeli towns.

Unlike in previous rounds of violence, even the official IDF timeline states that Israel was the first to act, when on Friday it assassinated two of the heads of the Popular Resistance Committees. No official explanation was given for the hit, except a claim that  Zuheir Al-Queisi was “responsible for planning a combined terror attack that was to take place via Sinai in the coming days.” Yesterday (Sunday), government ministers and the army spokesperson refused to give more details on the nature of the danger Al-Queisi posed.

There was also no information released on his alleged involvement in planning the August attack on Israeli soldiers and civilians near Eilat. As Yossi Gurvitz reported, security officials have released contradicting statements regarding that attack, claiming at a certain point that the perpetrators were already assassinated, and at another moment, that they were Egyptians from Sinai.

Hamas, it should be noted, is at a crossroads: the organization has lost its base in Damascus, and is caught in an internal debate regarding the future of the resistance, with several leaders publicly mulling on shifting to unarmed resistance. Contrary to Israeli propaganda claims, it seems that Hamas is not taking part in the shooting of rockets, and has asked the Egyptians to help broker a ceasefire. Meanwhile in Israel, pundits and public figures are calling to continue striking targets in Gaza, citing the diplomatic support Israel is receiving and international indifference to the killing in Gaza.

Theoretically, one could have hoped that with Gilad Schalit freed and with fewer casualties on the Israeli side – thanks also to the introduction of the Iron Dome rocket interception batteries – the Israeli leadership would be more inclined to stabilize the situation on the southern border and gradually lift the blockade on the Strip. There is no doubt that Israel enjoys the right conditions to do so now, when Hamas is at a low point and poses no serious strategic threat.

Yet what is so disappointing about Israel’s policy in the current decade or so is that at the height of its power, Israel becomes less likely to take part in diplomatic initiatives or agree to even mild concessions.

While the current government is very careful not to start large-scale military operations, it doesn’t seek channels of communication with the Hamas leadership, and seems determined to maintain the status quo through the occasional implementation of deadly military strikes. As is always the case at such times, Israeli public opinion supports whatever violent means its government chooses to use. Civilians on both sides – around 1.5 million Palestinians and one million Israelis – will continue to pay the [unequal] price.