ISRAEL GAZA CONFLICT: PATH TO WAR?

2012-11-23 08:45

The Gaza ceasefire has now been in place for about a day and a half, and the situation is more or less stable , with no indications that either side is predisposed to quickly return to fighting with the other, leaving the civilian populations of southern Israel and the tiny strip to try to return to their normal lives.

With bombs and rockets causing considerable damage, particularly in Gaza City, this could take awhile, and with both governments trying to claim victory and pushing for “celebrations,” the average person on the street is more liable to be cleaning up the mess the two sides made trading strikes.

In Gaza particularly there is a lot of enthusiasm about the deal, and hopes that it will mean stability, with one vegetable stall owner in Gaza describing the situation as upbeat, saying everyone was eager to get back to normal as soon as possible. In southern Israel, that hope is tempered by a solid majority opposed to the idea of peace.

The real question that has to be asked is why this conflict broke out – so spontaneously it must be added – in the first place?

The motives for such a campaign are being highly contested amongst pundits, scholars, and your average Arabs and Israelis who inevitably allow their emotions to get in the way of rationality. But the question remains: Why would Israel, in the midst of coming to a permanent truce agreement, turn around and kill the man that they themselves vetted to maintain it?

The most plausible scenario seems to be that election cycle politics are the main motive, combined with a show of force and possibly a test to see how Iran plays its hand in coming to Hamas’ defense. And indeed, even the escalations against Gaza are looking more and more like part of a broader strategy to sell the public on a future attack on Iran, with officials touting the militias in the tiny, besieged strip as Iran’s “front line.”

The conflicts ability to shift the Israeli voters dramatically rightward is not to be underestimated, and right before the election this could impact the next Israeli cabinet meaningfully, piecing together an even more hawkish force.

At the same time, officials are looking to convince the public that the “show of strength” demonstrates military readiness for attacking Iran, suggesting that their ability to bomb a tiny enclave on their border is not materially any different from bombing a massive nation much farther away. How well they can sell the myth of the invincible Israeli military by bombing refugee camps remains to be seen, but could play a major role in shifting voter sentiment back toward a unilateral attack.

There are growing fears that the fighting between Israel and Hamas in Gaza was a test run for an even bigger battle between Israel and Iran. NBC’s chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel spoke from Gaza on Monday, where he expressed that concern, and questioned the timing of Israel’s aerial assault.

“Israel really picked the timing. Israel could have gone into a war with Hamas almost at any time [with] its rocket launches as a pretext,” said Engel. “But it chose to do it  now. Israel has been testing its Iron Dome defence systems, which would certainly come into play if there was a war with Iran.”

Let it be stated that I wholeheartedly believe in the right of Israel to exist and further, it’s right to protect its citizens from genuine attacks from any quarter. What I abhor however is Israel using Gaza as a prelude to an attack on Iran by provoking Iran and other Arab nations into moves for which Israel can retaliate. War with Iran would be a terrible option for Israel. The Iranian people would probably respond to outside attack by rallying behind their leaders and strengthening a deeply unpopular regime. Iran would hit back through Hizbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza and by trying to close the Strait of Hormuz, imposing civilian casualties on Israel and a grave burden on the global economy. In Syria, Bashar al-Assad – as opportunistic as ever – would pose alongside Iran as a dual victim of a so called Zionist plot.

In fact, the military option might well be wholly counterproductive. The American, British and Israeli governments all share the same assessment of Iran’s intentions: they believe the country’s leaders want the ability to build a nuclear weapon, but have not yet decided whether to actually go ahead and exercise the option. After an Israeli attack, the Iranians would be compelled to take a decision – and we can all guess what it would be.

All sides concede that any future war will be of unprecedented proportions and with the World currently in the state that it’s in……… can we really afford another avoidable war in the region?

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