Gaza Rocket Strikes Serve Netanyahu's Political Goals

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are being well-served by continual rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip into southern Israeli villages, Ben Caspit writes. The strikes bolster Netanyahu's contention that Hamas is not a partner for political negotiation and they give Barak extra photo opportunities as Mr. Security.

al-monitor Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the town hall in the southern city of Ashdod, March 11, 2012, after Israeli aircraft killed three Palestinians following three days of rocket attacks from Gaza. Photo by REUTERS/Baz Ratner.

Topics covered

rockets, qatar, palestinian-israeli peace process, hamas, gaza

Oct 29, 2012

Israel could have easily prevented the visit to Gaza of the Emir of Qatar this week [Oct. 23]. After all, Israel is seeking to isolate Hamas, isn't it? However, Israel refrained from forestalling the visit. And it was on purpose that it refrained from action ahead of the visit. As it's only a thriving Hamas regime that would enable Netanyahu to insist on the position he has been persistently presenting to the world, namely that there is no point in the political process.

The ceasefire announced yesterday [Oct. 24] between Israel and Hamas was mutually agreed by the sides on the basis of common interests. Slowly, quietly and unnoticeably, Hamas has inadvertently and not necessarily to its advantage become the major strategic partner of the Netanyahu government (a role once reserved for the United States, just think about it!).

The question of whether this is in our [Israel's] own interest is still open. Israel could have easily prevented the visit to Gaza of the Emir of Qatar this week. After all, Israel is seeking to isolate Hamas, isn't it? And since the area had already been set on fire ahead of the visit and the ping-pong of targeted killings and barrages of rockets was heating up across the borderline, all that Israel had to do was to step it up some more and bring about the escalation a couple of days earlier, while at the same time delivering a silent message through the Egyptians that the Qatari Emir had better not come here as it would be impossible to guarantee his personal safety. However, Israel did nothing of the sort. And it was on purpose that it refrained from action.

Indeed, Israel had an interest in enabling the visit of the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamed bin Khalifa al-Thani, and in ensuring its success. This, since Israel is actually interested in the continued rule of Hamas in the Gaza Strip and in the ongoing weakening of Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] in the West Bank. As it's only a thriving Hamas regime that would enable Netanyahu to insist on the position he has been persistently presenting to the world, namely that there is no point in the political process. Thus, [from his point of view,] a Jihadist, Salafist, Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip would be preferable to Abu Mazen's dominance, which would put the political process back on the agenda.

And for those who forgot, here's a brief reminder: A short while prior to the previous parliamentary election in Israel, in February 2009, just after the Cast Lead operation, a Grad rocket fired from Gaza hit the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon. Then — opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu promptly went down there. His visit is documented on YouTube; search for "Netanyahu in Ashkelon, February 2009," and you will see it for yourself. Bibi [Netanyahu] appears on the scene and Hamas gets on edge.

Look at him, standing there in a jacket and open shirt, without a tie, against a hazy background, saying the following, almost word-for-word (with some short omissions): "We are standing here, at the gates of Ashkelon. This morning, a Grad rocket hit the city. It says everything. It's only by chance, by mere chance, that miraculously the children who showed me the shrapnel from the explosion were not injured. But we cannot rely on miracles. There is a need for action that will eliminate this threat once and for all. And there is only one thing that will do it: We have to crush the Hamas rule in Gaza. I warned years ago that Hamas would fire rockets on Ashdod and Ashkelon (and that's right; he did indeed warn against the danger, Ben Caspit). However, Kadima and [its leader] Tzipi Livni disdainfully dismissed it ... And just now, Tzipi Livni and Kadima have stopped the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in mid-action, before completing the job, the excellent job done by the army. We are not going to stop the IDF; we will carry on the work to its completion; we will crush the Hamas terror regime and restore security for the residents of Ashkelon and for the residents of Ashdod, Sderot, Beersheba and Yavneh; we will restore security for the citizens of Israel."

At that point, Netanyahu paused to tell about an encounter he had with a young mother who was carrying her terrified, howling infant in her arms. As usual, Bibi skillfully described the intensity of the human drama: "The little girl is crying and her mother says to me, look at her, she is not even two yet and she is crying, she is scared, she is imploring you, please, do something, help us. ... And I'm reassuring her, of course we will take action, we will topple the Hamas regime and restore security for each and every one of you." Cut.

And then he [Benjamin Netanyahu, leading the Likud] lost the election (to Kadima, by just one single seat); nevertheless, he was asked to form a government thanks to the right-bloc parties, which won enough seats to tip the scales. So, what have we got in the four years since? Nothing! [Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert set out on the Cast Lead operation following a barrage of 60 rockets a day fired on the centers of population in Southern Israel. Olmert intended to carry out the Cast Lead offensive to its completion and topple the Hamas regime or, at least, to gain control over Rafah and cut off Hamas from Egypt. Alas, he was barred from accomplishing his goal. Three figures stood in his way and they are, in the following order of importance: [Defense Minister] Ehud Barak, Tzipi Livni and [then-Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff] Gabi Ashkenazi, who implicitly backed the former two.

This week [Oct. 21], four years after all that, Israeli towns and villages were targeted by massive [Hamas] barrage fire of 80 rockets a day, and there is no [second] Cast Lead operation in response. What we do have instead is endless chatter, empty words and baseless promises and hollow threats — with nothing behind them. And if you wonder about the crying baby Netanyahu happened to come across in February 2009, almost shedding a tear himself, well, if he is not setting out on the operation he pledged to launch (in fact, he has never embarked on any significant military operation), then why hasn't he at least done something to shelter the area? It's only now, with the election close at hand, that he musters the same authoritative baritone that served him so well back then, in February 2009, to promise reinforced shielding. Promises, promises ...

Netanyahu Toes the Line with Liberman

Among them all, the only one who has the nerve to state the truth is Avigdor Liberman [Israel’s Foreign Minister]. He has stated publically, more than once, that Abu Mazen must be toppled. Liberman’s vision fits well with Hamas’ takeover of the territory and removing the political process from the agenda for generations. Under such circumstances, it would be possible to declare Jordan as a Palestinian state, to allow the Palestinians in the territories to vote in Jordanian parliamentary elections and expand their independence, including a certain territorial continuity, within the Palestinian Authority. But Netanyahu — the one who talks about the two-state solution, the same one who delivered the Bar Ilan speech and demands that Abu Mazen return to the political process — he is supposed to think otherwise, right? So that’s it: Netanyahu aligns his thought processes each time according to the one who scares him the most. At the beginning of his term of office he feared Obama, so he thought “two states” and went to Bar Ilan. At the end of his tenure he’s afraid of Yvette [Liberman], and became convinced that Hamas is our greatest strategic asset. Only he forgot to update us. Check on You Tube, maybe a new video clip has appeared in the meanwhile.

I am in favour of an extensive military action in Gaza with the option of toppling Hamas. I also favour artillery response to every Kassam rocket no matter what the cost, until the Kassam phenomenon ceases altogether (and it will cease after two days; we’ll deal with the Goldstones later). Therefore, based on historical experience, I have no problem being suspicious about the present round of violence. In the midst of an election campaign when threats to Netanyahu come from the socio-economic sphere, when a chance is finally emerging that, for the first time in our history, elections will be based on what’s happening inside the country and not what frightens us from the outside — there is no doubt that the current round of violence benefits Netanyahu and especially [Defense Minister] Barak. Now, who cares that [social protest leader] Itzik Shmueli joined Labor (as well as Hili Tropper, an extremely worthy Israeli), or that Rabbi Shai Piron aligned himself with [upcoming Israeli politician] Yair Lapid.

Barak’s close associates have been quoted here more than once saying that the only chance to salvage their beleaguered boss is either via an important political process with his involvement, or via a photogenic military operation under his leadership. In the current reality regarding Gaza, a new round of violence can easily be instigated almost every day. Terror attempts take place all the time, rocket-launching squads circulate on motorcycle every day, everything depends on the dosage and the level of sensitivity employed by each side vis-à-vis the other. If one side wants to ignite a conflagration it can be done almost invisible to the naked eye. We take out some terrorists too quickly and instead of containing the rockets that follow, we’d respond to them with a targeted killing or two, and presto — everything’s on fire. It can be done, or it can be avoided. Therefore, I suspect that our southern residents spent the week in shelters not because Hamas decided to wage war against Israel, but because there was someone in Israel who wanted a photo-op opportunity in battle-dress in the battlefield and the opportunity to drop by the news studios. Check out Ehud Barak: he was interviewed this week [Oct. 21-25] on all the television channels, all the radio stations, almost all the newspapers. With the last of his strength he tried to remind us that he is Mr. Security. By the way, when he was asked on the television show “Economic Night” about his move from one luxurious Tel Aviv high-rise tower to another, he gave the following unforgettable answer, “From tower to tower, our power increases.” 

And here’s another small reminder: in December 2008, two-plus months before elections (exactly like now), Barak executed a spectacular about-face and started pushing for an operation in Gaza — something he had avoided at all costs for a long time. Suddenly he was in a hurry and suddenly he insisted on an assault come what may, even on unpopulated targets. The Labor party — in which Barak still held sway at the time — had declined in the surveys and he urgently needed an infusion of new mandates. So we embarked on the Cast Lead operation. But once it was underway, instead of letting Olmert finish the work, after two days (48 hours) Barak did another flip-flop. The round of interviews had exhausted itself, ditto for the battle dress, and Barak wanted to stop it all and go home so as not get too entangled. Yes, that’s the way it looked to us here. This week, after Barak’s who-knows-how-many interviews, I was reminded of yet another set of elections, this time in 2001. Then, when Barak had collapsed in the opinion polls and was humiliated in the ballot-boxes by Ariel Sharon, he ran around to every possible news studio in the last two weeks. At the end, I think he even flashed across the Children’s Channel. The reason? To explain to everyone how he “tore the mask off Arafat's face.”

In those days, Barak’s cronies — Yoni Koren and Eldad Yaniv — told everyone that they had surveys pointing to victory. Today, that same Yoni Koren is in New York (to where he recently moved) and says that he has surveys pointing to “between four and six mandates.” I only hope they don’t force him to take a lie-detector over that, too.

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