After the end of the latest Israeli military offensive against the Gaza Strip, which lasted just under sixty hours, criticism of political and military decision-makers began to surface within the occupation state. The most important aspect of this criticism was that the bombardment will not prevent the two sides from slipping into more rounds of fighting, meaning that Israelis will face an open-ended conflict without being able to end it on their own terms.
The Israeli offensive began with the killing of an Islamic Jihad military commander, which will be seen by the occupation army as an operational achievement of great importance. However, a deeper look at the situation while Sunday night’s ceasefire still holds shows a number of gaps in Israeli policy towards Gaza.
The first of these gaps shows the fragility of the military planning which Israel has been promoting since the end of the previous war against Gaza in May last year. It was based on the wrong assumption that the better the quality of life for the residents of the Gaza Strip, the less likely it is for a new military confrontation to take place. The second gap is the assumption that Hamas will not go to war with Israel for fear of losing any of its assets that contribute to the stability of its governance.
A third gap is the question mark over the ineffectiveness of the strategic equation Israel has been promoting. Another is the Israeli desire to deal with Hamas and Islamic Jihad separately, in contradiction of the basic assumption on which its policy is based, that Hamas governs the strip and so is responsible for everything that happens there. A fight focused solely on Islamic Jihad may see Israel go back to an era of intermittent rounds of fighting.
Criticism aims to expose what Israelis say is a difference between Israel’s perceptions about the offensive and Hamas perceptions. Although it looked as though it was not involved, Hamas actually gave Islamic Jihad a lot of support in the final hours of the conflict. It ended just like previous rounds. Hence the Israeli fear that it will be open-ended, allowing Hamas and other resistance factions in Gaza to regroup to deal with future Israeli offensives because the security context may lead Israel to believe that its policy will guarantee long-term calm in the Gaza Strip.
It was no secret that Israel wanted a short offensive this time; it was not interested in a large-scale operation, despite the massive troop deployments on the ground. A longer operation would mean a heavy human, economic and security price to pay.
Having initiated this offensive, the Israeli army was keen to protect settlements close to the nominal border with Gaza, so as not to give resistance groups the propaganda victory of seeing Israeli settlers evacuating their homes. The army also wanted to make sure that the public avoided inflicting losses internally through a lack of discipline, as per feedback from the previous war.
Another factor considered by the army and politicians was the northern front with Lebanon and Syria. In May last year, rockets were launched from Lebanon towards Israel, and this could happen again. Frequent Israeli reports claim that Hamas is establishing a military structure in the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon.
Yet another factor relates to how the Palestinians living in the so-called “mixed cities” within Israel, such as Jaffa, Haifa, Lod, Ramle and Acre, will react to Israeli aggression in Gaza and the West Bank. Last year they took to the streets in support of the resistance groups and against the ongoing occupation and attacks against Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied Jerusalem. This prompted Israel’s police force to make open security preparations over the weekend against such a possibility happening again.
Moreover, Israel realized that it needed to organize an international political and media campaign to gather support for its aggression against the Palestinians, because the world knew that it had started the latest round and had a problem in trying to justify it. A longer war would have made this even more difficult. Western politicians played their part by saying that it is unacceptable to fire rockets from Gaza and Israel has the right to defend itself. It has no such right as an occupying power.
Finally, we cannot overlook the fact that a General Election is looming in Israel and interim Prime Minister Lapid needed to establish his security credentials given that he has no military service worth speaking about. He and his colleagues hope to make electoral gains at the expense of Palestinian blood.
This was the first major offensive against the Palestinians under Lapid’s leadership; the first time in thirteen years that a war has been launched with Likud in opposition; and the first time that a military offensive has been launched against the Palestinians while an Arab party is part of the government coalition in the occupation state.
When the Gaza war broke out in May 2021, Lapid and his colleagues accused Benjamin Netanyahu’s government of going to war for party political reasons. Netanyahu gave his support to Lapid’s government last week.
Israelis knew that Lapid must finish the latest offensive within two to three days, so that he would come out with minimal losses; body bags are bad for public relations. They knew that he might lose a lot if the war got more complicated. It may, therefore, represent a bitter and early end to his premiership that has so far only lasted just five weeks. He agreed on a ceasefire without knowing the exact positive or negative effects of the offensive on his election chances, which may depend on how much Palestinian blood was spilt. No wonder Israel is concerned.
– Dr. Adnan Abu Amer heads the Political Science and Media Department of Umma University Open Education in Gaza. His article appeared in MEMO.