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World Middle East

The toll of the Gaza rockets

  • Paula
Late on Tuesday, a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas went into effect. While at the time of writing the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) had still not confirmed the existence of such a truce, Israeli citizens living in the south of the country were told they could return home and to “normalcy”.
by PAULA SLIER | Nov 15, 2018

It was the culmination of two days of violence in the past 25 hours of which, according to the IDF, more than 460 rockets were fired at Israel with the Iron Dome countering 190 of them.

The rest of the rockets hit open fields, although a few dozen landed inside Israeli cities and towns. One person was killed – a 48-year-old Palestinian who had worked in Israel for 15 years. A 19-year-old Israeli soldier is (at the time of writing) in critical condition after a bus transporting his unit was hit. He has undergone two major operations, and doctors say his condition is improving. Seven Gazans were killed in the same period.

It was the largest number of rockets ever launched at the Jewish state within a day - even more than the worst days of the last Israel-Gaza war in 2014 - and the Israeli air force responded by hitting more than 170 Hamas and Islamic Jihad targets.

The flare up was triggered on Sunday night, when an Israeli secret operation in Gaza went wrong. Some media outlets have referred to it as “a significant Israeli intelligence and operational failure”.

While acting undercover, one of Israel’s most elite commando groups was discovered, and although they managed to kill seven Palestinians, including a senior commander of the armed wing of Hamas, they had to return to Israel under cover of fire. An Israeli senior officer was killed, and another injured. Their names have not been released. While attending his funeral, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said he’d come “to thank and to salute a hero, on behalf of the entire State of Israel. The very best of our boys, whose memory will be forever engraved in our hearts.”

Before reportedly agreeing to the ceasefire, the Israeli security cabinet met for seven hours on Tuesday. But public opinion is against them, and media criticism is also growing, pointing fingers at what is perceived as a weak government response to Hamas.

Many on both the right and the left of the Israeli political spectrum are demanding that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu do more to end the rocket threat from Hamas and “deal with Gaza once and for all”.

They argue that Hamas leaders have been emboldened by the prime minister’s repeated statements that he isn’t interested in an escalation in Gaza, and his limited response whenever violence flares up. Increasingly, it seems, they’re right. Hamas leaders certainly feel that they can get away without paying too much of a price whenever they launch military action across the border. Celebratory demonstrations were held in several cities in Gaza over “the victory of the resistance”, where Israeli leaders were mocked for their “failure” to deal with the escalation.

By contrast, in southern Israel, demonstrations against the ceasefire attracted a lot of attention. Protestors blocked roads and burnt tires, chanting, “Bibi [Netanyahu], go home.” For a long time now, they have felt abandoned.

There is some irony here. Netanyahu heads the most right-wing government in Israel’s history, and yet it has repeatedly decided to pursue ceasefires with Hamas. Netanyahu is supported by the heads of all the Israeli security services, but not by his Defence Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, who has been very vocal in his opposition and who on Wednesday announced his resignation. He wants action to be taken. It is still too soon to say what will be the impact of Liberman departing the coalition but Netanyahu retains a majority – albeit slight – in the parliament. 

But the prime minister is concerned about the price that would need to be exacted from any ground operation in Gaza. Assuming that Israel topples Hamas, who will replace it? This is a question Netanyahu has no answer for. There is no group or leader currently in the wings, and the ensuing chaos could be more detrimental to Israel in the long-run.

Netanyahu is also cognisant of what is happening on the international stage. His recent historic trip to the Gulf State of Oman is a step, he believes, in opening up Israel’s relationship with other Gulf states. No doubt he is hoping that ties with those countries could result in money being invested in Gaza, which in turn, could help ease the situation there and detract attention away from Israel.

There is of course also the Iranian threat in Syria and Lebanon which Netanyahu believes requires attention and resources. And then, always on the backburner, are the upcoming Israeli elections. Who knows how a war with Gaza might end – and Netanyahu doesn’t want to take any chances with ratings that currently put him as the favourite to win another premiership.

In a nutshell, Netanyahu believes that even after two days of heavy rocket barrages, there is no justification for going to war in Gaza now. But he’ll face some political fallout because of this. It’s also risky because, as was demonstrated this week, efforts at reaching a long-term ceasefire arrangement with Hamas can easily go awry.

For weeks now, Egypt, the United Nations, and Qatar have been mediating between Israel and Hamas and, as recently as last Sunday morning, the signs were that a longer-term truce was taking hold.

But the problem is that past ceasefires - and indeed the current uneasy calm - have proven to be unsustainable. Since the last Israel-Gaza war in 2014, the situation along the border has remained tense with an occasional flare up of violence.

The situation was recently exacerbated by the months-long “Great March of Return” in which more than 200 Palestinians were killed as tens of thousands demonstrated along the border fence each Friday. So, while on the one hand Israel’s southern citizens are back to “normal”, it could be temporary. 

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