Several hours ago, Israel assassinated Ahmed Jabari along with his son, a Hamas operative and at least three other civilians in an attack that launched a new war in Gaza. Israelis have been receiving call-ups for reserve duty as happens whenever a war or ground operation is planned. It appears likely this is Operation Cast Lead II.
It is, of course, no accident that Israeli elections will be held in two months. Israeli prime ministers routinely use wars to bolster their popularity. Menachem Begin attacked the Osirak reactor shortly before elections, which he subsequently won. Aluf Benn offers (Hebrew) a long list of such political opportunism including Operation Grapes of Wrath (1996) and Operation Cast Lead just before the 2009 elections. Bibi, being a master of political tactics (but not strategy, since he has none) wanted to leave no stone unturned in his march to victory in January.
The guy’s got a definite touch of the diabolical as well. Today was when Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni expected to announce their return to politics and to campaigning for the next Knesset election. In a single stroke (or should I say “a single missile”) he’s rendered virtually the entire political Opposition irrelevant. Olmert’s been eclipsed. Yachimovich’s social justice campaign platform is moot. All that’s left is security and Bibi is King. He owns security as an issue.
As happened numerous times in the past, including after the Eilat terror attack, when Israel lied in ascribing blame for the attack on Gaza and murdered 30 in revenge strikes, terror in Gaza is not the issue. Gaza is a useful tool or canvas on which Israeli generals and politicians embellish their careers. It’s the utmost in cynicism, but alas all too common in the debased society Israel has become.
Further, Bibi did not yet have his own personal war to his credit. Almost every Israeli PM has to have one. It’s the mark by which they distinguish themselves. Since he could not arrange a war with Iran due to U.S. intransigence, and the pig-headed obstinacy of the U.S. electorate who refused to elect Mitt Romney, Gaza will have to do.
The first U.S. response was from the Pentagon saying they “stood shoulder to shoulder with the Israeli people in their response to terror.” Which is ironic given that Israel engaged in an act of terror assassinating Jabari and the other Gaza civilians. As an interesting footnote, Israeli security correspondent Ronen Bergman was interviewed for a TV show aired a few days ago about the history of the Mossad. One interesting comment he made is that Israel has used assassination more than any other state since World War II. He seems to be forgetting that the U.S. is likely the leader in this category. But still it’s indicative that Bergman gives such pride of place to Israel’s prowess in murdering its political foes.
It must be said clearly, Jabari’s assassination is not an act of defense or even a response to past terror attacks against it. It is a blatant act of provocation and an act of terror in itself. It is akin to the 2003 assassination of Saleh Shehadeh and will, in the end, cause the deaths of more Israelis and Gazans than that ghastly massacre. These are war crimes and must eventually be held accountable as such.
Israel knows that by murdering Jabari they’ve not dented Hamas’ military capability. Another Jabari will arise who will out-Jabari Jabari just as Nasrallah outdid Abbas Musawi, who Israel assassinated. Bibi needs Hamas. He needs an eternal enemy. It’s what makes him strong. He and the Likud are the political equivalent of Dracula. Just as Jefferson said the Tree of Liberty needed to be refreshed with the blood of patriots and tyrants, the ultranationalists cynically need to drink the blood of dead Palestinians (or Iranians or Lebanese) in order to guarantee their political reign. This is ghoulish. It is insane. Israeli policy is insane.
Not satisfied with pursuing war as a political objective to dominate the Palestinians, the IDF has invoked the Torah in calling this operation Pillar of Cloud (as in “By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way”). No, I’m sorry. God doesn’t walk with killers. My God doesn’t want blood, either Jewish or Palestinian. My God is not an anti-jihadi. He doesn’t hate Muslims or Arabs. Bibi, do not debase my holy texts. Do not exploit them in your attempt to provoke religious wars. I’d prefer calling this new campaign Pillar of White Phosphorus, myself.
Pres. Obama must demand that the invasion stop and that Israel and Hamas observe a full ceasefire. If Bibi refuses, Obama should convene a Security Council session to approve Palestine’s application for UN membership as a state. He should also announce that he will abrogate all previous agreements to ostracize Hamas and that he will permit U.S. diplomats to begin discussions with the Islamist group. It is the failure of U.S. policy in regard to Hamas and Gaza that’s gotten us into the mess we’re in now. We share some measure of responsibility for this bloodbath.
In reality, Obama will do nothing, as happened in 2009, when he arrived at a grand bargain with Olmert to end Cast Lead the day before his Inauguration. Until that date, the IDF had carte blanche to massacre Gazans, which they did with great aplomb. The president has bigger fish to fry and is nothing if not a cold eyed pragmatist schooled in real politick. He wants a budget deal and immigration reform far more than he wants to save Gazan lives.
Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood has demanded that that country consider suspending its treaty agreements with Israel. The question will be how far Pres. Morsi is willing to go. UPDATE: Haaretz just announced that Egypt has recalled its ambassador for “consultations.” Bibi has made a calculated gamble that the front line states will remain quiescent. In the past, that would’ve held true. But these are different times and Israel may find that the Arabs aren’t so willing to roll over and play dead.
Hasbarists, I put you on notice that you may argue till the cows come home about Jabari having blood on his hands, but the plain truth in this case is that Jabari and Hamas were honoring the ceasefire (though Islamic Jihad wasn’t). Even if you want to level the specious argument that Hamas was responsible for the renewed rocket fire, none of those rockets caused even an injury, let alone killed anyone.
I understand Judge Goldstone isn’t available to lead the next UN war crimes investigation. Ban Ki Moon might want to establish a short list of credible candidates to take this mandate, as we will certainly have many choices of war crimes to investigate in the coming days and weeks.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.