ANALYSIS: A broader look at the recent Gaza attacks

With the end of the Israeli military offensive on Gaza nowhere in sight, MENASSAT looks at what is truly at stake with this military offensive. Is this the end of Arab resistance to military aggression or just the end of Hamas?
A Palestinian man walks past destroyed tunnels near the Egyptian border with the southern Gaza Strip December 31, 2008. © Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters

BEIRUT, December 31, 2008 (MENASSAT) - In Gaza over the last five days, it is clear that Israel is trying to re-impose the advantages of deterrence, hegemony and fear, which have diminished since the 2006 war in Lebanon.

These advantages – both strategic and military – have in the last eight years been further eroded by a failed U.S. militarism in the Middle East, the growing influence of Iran in the region, and primarily by Hamas’ rise to power in Palestine.

Hamas in this context is being targeted by Israel because it has been legitimized in the Palestinian Territories, particularly in the Gaza Strip.

The Islamist party was legitimately elected to power in 2006, an election observed and called “free and fair” by former US president Jimmy Carter’s group The Carter Center. “The election process (in Palestine in 2006) was the most honest the (Carter) centre had monitored,” the former president said during a talk at American University of Beirut nearly two weeks ago.

Hamas’ rise to power in the Territories was further cemented by its military takeover of the Gaza Strip over factions loyal to their rival political party, Fatah – the party of the ruling Palestinian Authority and President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen).

Sources such as the Vanity Fair have confirmed the Hamas takeover was a preemptive strike against a U.S.-backed Fatah coup d’etat.

Now, Israel is targeting Hamas because it is the last active major political faction that adopts resistance as an obvious platform for dealing with Israel.

Ceasefire on the horizon?

The decision to attack Hamas’ infrastructure in Gaza was made months ago, well before the November Qassam rocket attacks into south Israel by militant factions in Gaza.

Planning for this past week’s Israeli military offensive - “Operation Cast Lead” -was likely finalized in the early weeks of the six-month ceasefire agreement between Hamas and Israel, which technically ended on December 19.

There are rumors of a potential cease-fire this week (NYT), but nothing material has surfaced.

Israel has continued its punishing air attacks. Mark Regev, spokesman for Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert said, “It’s important to keep up the pressure on Hamas.”

“We cannot give them a respite to rearm and regroup. We need a real, sustainable solution, not a Band-Aid.”

And Israel’s military heads have been warning against any premature withdrawals from Gaza without a clear exit plan – something made all the more necessary as Israel prepares for a ground invasion.

Israel goes to war, with unlikely allies

Talk of “Arab client states” spurring on Israel’s military maneuvers, specifically implicates Egypt, who controls the southern border with Gaza.

On Christmas day, Israeli foreign minister, Tzipi Livni met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to discuss the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza – a day before Israel allowed some aid convoys to enter from the Israeli controlled Erez crossing in northern Gaza.

Livni criticized Hamas after the meeting. "Hamas needs to understand that Israel's basic desire to live in a tranquil region doesn't mean that Israel is willing to accept ongoing shooting at its population," she said, according to the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

"Enough is enough. We cannot accept this situation, and the situation will change."

Sources in the Arab press say Egypt sent Hamas word to ignore the Israeli threats of attack. And Israel played along with the ruse of ignoring the firing of some 70-rockets and mortar rounds by Palestinian militants into Israel on December 25 – two days before the Israeli airstrikes on Gaza.

"Allowing the humanitarian aid into Gaza was also meant to act as a deception against Hamas and give them the sense that the operation wasn't imminent," a senior Israeli official told AFP.
As a result, a large number, some 60 graduating traffic police were killed on the first day of the Israeli airstrikes when a graduation ceremony that was originally canceled for fear of an impending Israeli invasion was then given a greenlight.

The breaking point

Israel is acting now in Gaza to strengthen its hand during the transition period in US politics, in other words, to create new “facts on the ground” before U.S. president elect Barack Obama takes over.

If Hamas is destroyed, Israel knows it has a partner in Abu Mazen who is likely to sell-off the idea of a two-state solution on Israeli terms. The thinking being: better to destroy Hamas now before the scheduled Palestinian Authority presidential elections and the Israeli parliamentary elections in early 2009.

The problem is that Hamas will not, and cannot be destroyed through air assaults, and this is the breaking point. Israel knows this, which is why ground troops and tank divisions are amassed on the northern Gaza border.

The Israeli leadership knows the casualties will be high, but Israeli popular pressure to stop the rocket attacks into southern Israel insulates the Israeli leadership from international pressure to stop the Gaza incursion.

On the other hand, if Hamas and other militant resistance factions continue to fire Qassam rockets into Israel, while keeping their leadership base safe, Hamas will come out of the Israeli offensive with renewed strength.

The question then is how useful is this Israeli offensive going to be?

Gaza and West Bank have been on the brink of explosion for years now. Degrading humanitarian conditions and massive internal political upheaval will eventually be laid on Israel’s doorstep if Israel pushes through with a decimation policy.

Does Israel want to face a renewed and strengthened popular uprising in the West Bank as all indicators are suggesting, if not an uprising within the 1948 borders itself with an increasingly disenfranchised and disgruntled Arab-Israeli (Read: Palestinian-Israeli) population - all for the sake of avoiding further negotiations with Hamas?

The weapons of mass support

Public pressure will be crucial, in defining official Arab positions on the Gaza offensive.

There is real risk for unrest in a few Arab countries; Egypt and Jordan come to mind, with their large Palestinian populations.

It is here exactly, recalling Hezbollah's military victory in 2006 over Israel that the idea of resistance against Israel’s military might comes into question.

For many in the Arab world, what is seriously at stake in Gaza is the right to resistance itself, not just the survival of Hamas as an organization.

The question Arab regimes now have to answer for those thousands of people taking to the streets to protest is simple: if negotiations bring more Palestinian death and misery, why should Palestinians and Arabs adhere to unjust settlements?