Why did Netanyahu take aim at Gaza’s tallest towers?

The answer has nothing to do with alleged militants.

The third of three Gaza towers felled by Israeli F-16s housed, among other offices, a media consultancy representing several international news organizations. But when Al Basha Tower was hit early Tuesday morning, that consultancy had already been driven out by Israeli shelling, which had destroyed its eighth-floor office on July 30.

“The first time we were hit, it was a random Israeli shell,” said Saud Abu Ramadan, who has owned the office since 2007 and works as a stringer for American, Spanish, and Japanese news outlets. “But this time,” the 50-year-old Abu Ramadan told +972, “the IDF called building occupants and told us to leave.”

The remains of the Zafer 4 tower in Gaza. (photo: Jehad Saftawi)
The remains of the Zafer 4 tower in Gaza. (photo: Jehad Saftawi)

Unprecedented in their scale and impact, Israel’s attacks over the last 50 days have made a random shelling seem like a free pass. But with three high rises leveled in the last three days, some observers of Netanyahu’s war are asking why. Why have the Israelis upped the ante – from shelling a building randomly to executing what amounts to a demolition order?

The answer has nothing to do with alleged militants-in-hiding. After all, Israel deliberately encouraged the buildings’ occupants to leave. According to residents, the military called several of them and told them to flee along with hundreds of others in neighboring buildings, also rumored to be on the strike list. If there were some massive clandestine operation that “required” Israel to destroy a whole building, it could have done what it had no qualms doing before – killing entire families to extrajudicially “target” a single suspect. But this time, there was no attempt to strike without warning. No, Israel wanted the world to watch as the towers fell.

If that sounds all-too-familiar, it should. The parallels with America’s 9/11, which killed close to 3,000 people, would end there. Except that it was Netanyahu himself who used the 2001 attacks to fashion his tactics against the Palestinians. Speaking to a New York Times reporter the day of the attacks, Netanyahu called them “very good” for U.S.-Israel relations, and, within just six months, his country’s government was using them to justify its massive invasion of the West Bank, which killed nearly 500 Palestinians. The death toll echoed Netanyahu’s comments, made just before 9/11, that Israel had to deliver “blows that are so painful that the price will be too heavy to be borne.”

Fast forward 12 years. To understand just how ineffective Netanyahu’s scare tactics, however sadistic, have been, consider this: The 2002 assault on the West Bank, dubbed “Operation Defensive Shield” and executed by Ariel Sharon, killed 55 Palestinian children; in “Operation Protective Edge,” Netanyahu has already killed 10 times as many.

And yet, even with such savagery, the Israeli premier has not brought Gaza to heel. With his approval numbers dropping dramatically (just 38 percent of Israelis are “satisfied” with his performance, according to the most recent poll)  it’s little wonder that Netanyahu is taking aim at towers. Bringing down buildings is about ratings, not military gain.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Chief of General Staff Benny Gantz at the Defense Ministry. (photo: Haim Zach / GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Chief of General Staff Benny Gantz at the Defense Ministry. (photo: Haim Zach / GPO)

If anything, this might be the awful truth behind Netanyahu’s war: It is a spectacle for Israeli consumption, even as it consumes the lives of Palestinian innocents.

The towers weren’t the first spectacle, of course. When the media office at Al Basha was first shelled, Israeli tank units were laying waste to vast swaths of Gaza’s eastern and northern border towns, including Shejaiya and Beit Hanoun. The indiscriminate attacks displaced tens of thousands of residents and created apocalyptic scenes of destruction.

A few miles away, Gaza City residents could hear the shelling and see plumes of smoke rising on the horizon. Like everyone along the 25-mile-long Strip, they heard the constant hum of drones and the F-16 sorties. Some of these took aim at Gaza City, striking homes, the Islamic University, a soap factory not far from the Gaza port. But the scorched earth was always to the east and north, where rubble had replaced homes, and everywhere were scenes of despair.

Not anymore. Now Netanyahu has given Gaza City its own spectacular destruction. But to judge from the defiance on display throughout Gaza – residents pitching tents near the Zafer 4 tower hit two days ago, journalists driven from Al Basha and working today from their homes – Palestinians are determined to bear Netanyahu’s “blows.” Indeed, given the siege imposed upon them, the people of Gaza have no choice but to stand firm. And that, ultimately, is why Netanyahu will lose this war.

Related:
WATCH: Whole Gaza neighborhood destroyed in an hour
Gaza deaths aren’t worth a mention in leading Israeli newspaper
What would Israelis say to families of civilian casualties in Gaza?

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