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Opinion: Understanding the Gaza War | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Israeli tanks take position inside the Gaza Strip July 25, 2014. A flurry of long-range rocket launches on Friday set off sirens around Israel’s commercial capital of Tel Aviv, where witnesses reported several interceptions by the Iron Dome air defence system. A building was hit in the southern coastal town of Ashkelon but there were […]

We may never understand the contexts that preceded the recent round of the war on Gaza, or the real reasons behind the timing of its eruption. The issue of the kidnapping and killing of the three Israeli teenagers in Hebron—arguably the incident that sparked the Israeli attack on Gaza—remains heavily shrouded in mystery with regards to the real perpetrator and beneficiary.

Israel was quick to blame Hamas, threatening that the Islamist group would pay the price. Hamas responded by denying having any connection, accusing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of attempting to exploit the situation in a bid to launch a war on Gaza. Hamas at the same time threatened Israel by saying it would pay dearly in the case of any aggression. Amid the ping-pong of threats between Israel and Hamas, a statement attributed to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the operation, which it said it carried out in retaliation for the assassination of three of its members a year ago in Hebron.

The statement was met with skepticism by those who saw it as an attempt at reshuffling the cards. It also whetted the imagination of conspiracy theorists, as some saw it as an attempt to surround the organization with an aura of mystery, maintaining that it had succeeded in extending its influence to Palestine after Iraq and Syria. Others, however, interpreted the statement as an attempt to deflect Israel’s accusations against Hamas. Another group saw the statement as an attempt on the part of ISIS to deviate attention from its extending influence and operations in Iraq by igniting a war in Palestine.

But those who adopted such theories seem to have forgotten that organizations such as ISIS seek attention and sustain themselves on publicity. Thus, ISIS is not considering diverting attention from its operations in Iraq or elsewhere. In fact, the Islamist group has always sought to exaggerate its image and size.

Certainly, Israel took advantage of the situation in order to launch a large-scale operation in Gaza, claiming its aims are the destruction of Hamas tunnels and stopping the rocket fire. But these have always been Israel’s goals, and are unrelated to the issue of the three teenagers. Remarkably, Netanyahu also used the kidnapping incident to launch an attack on the Palestinian Authority and the recently announced reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas. Netanyahu criticized the Palestinian Authority for forming a national unity government with those he claimed to be the kidnappers of the teenagers—Hamas. Netanyahu’s attack is a continuation of the rejection and hard line he took against Palestinian reconciliation at the time, which prompted him to suspend negotiations with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, warning him to choose between Hamas or peace with Israel.

The violent attack by Netanyahu and his government on the Palestinian reconciliation, which included the formation of a national unity government and the holding of presidential and legislative elections, clearly shows that Israel’s main objective is to undermine this. If this goal is relatively understandable, given the constant desire on the part of Israel to prevent a political reunion of the Palestinians, how would one explain Hamas’s rush towards confrontation? The people of Gaza, moreover, have not been consulted on the decision to involve them in a war they have been through before and which has only served to increase their suffering.

After the signing of the reconciliation agreement and taking the first steps towards the formation of a national unity government, it would have been logical and more feasible for Hamas to do all it could not to give Israel a chance to move to confrontation. In fact, it should have consulted with the Palestinian Authority instead of taking the unilateral decision to go to war, which has not only harmed the relationship between the two sides and the reconciliation agreement, but also had a very negative impact on the lives of the people of Gaza.

Hamas may see in the confrontation with Israel a chance to enhance its much-tarnished image through the dire reality of what is happening in Gaza, and at the same time use that reality against the Palestinian Authority, which knows it looks bad as it helplessly looks on. Such calculations are based on Hamas’s past experience in dealing with a public that is moved by emotions not reason. Due to its record of incompetence and setbacks, the public has begun to see an act of heroism in any adventure, irrespective of its outcome.

Despite all the destruction in Gaza and the large number of casualties—which may rise to the 1,400 deaths of the 2008-9 war—there are those who still cheer for Hamas and speak about the victories of the “resistance” and the “missiles of dignity.” In 2008 we also heard about Hamas’s victories and achievement of the goals of resistance, while in reality divisions among Palestinians increased, the suffering of the people of Gaza was exacerbated, the blockade on the enclave tightened and the border crossings remained shut, leaving nothing but despair and agony.

The more things change in Palestine, the more they stay the same.