Digging through the pulverized ruins of Gaza revealed the extent of damage to the Palestinian community. Still not revealed are exact reasons for Israel’s attack, its sudden willingness to halt the damage and what awaits a shaken Middle East in the future. Clues that contradict the given reason for the attack — rockets hitting Israeli soil — are: (1) rockets have been hitting southern Israel since 2002, (2) the initial rocket barrage caused no casualties, and (3) the intensive emphasis on the rocket attacks as the reason for Israel’s overly aggressive counterpunch, with almost all Israelis and foreign newspapers reciting that theme, seemed too arranged, more like concerted propaganda, and an attempt to divert attention from more valid explanations.
Regardless of the conflicting views of events, an inevitable drift to war was set in motion for one overriding reason: Israel, international institutions and western nations refused to talk with Hamas.
A legitimately elected government requested halts to a punishing blockade and to attacks on its citizens in the West Bank and Gaza. Silence. More pleading and more silence. Finally, militants fire an uncontrollable salvo of rockets, positioned so no fatalities could occur, alerting Israel and a complacent world that Hamas could no longer permit its people to be starved into surrender.
Hamas’ demands deserved discussion. Instead, Israel responded with missile strikes, which instantly killed 250 Palestinians, assured retaliating rockets would finally kill Israelis and signaled an eventual violence against Gazans and a politically motivated invasion of the territory.
Did rocket fire, which had been happening continuously since 2002, cause the conflagration? The initial break in the lapsed truce, which caused no casualties, followed Israel’s neglect of Hamas’ pleas. Combine Israel’s ongoing refusal to give the slightest recognition to a democratically elected Hamas government with the world’s refusal to counter Israel’s intransigence and we have, not the reason, but the cause of the latest conflict.
The forces that control actions of the world community seemed to have been guided by only what served Israel’s interests rather than what was beneficial for the world, what would stabilize the Middle East and what would be helpful to the Palestinians. Although casualties are always disputed, most reports indicate that the inability to deter Israel’s attack resulted in the deaths of more than 1300 Palestinians, wounding of more than 5400, damage to more then 22,000 buildings, including United Nation structures, mosques, universities, a medical school and almost every police station. Predictions have Gaza’s flimsy gross domestic product being reduced by 85 percent or almost to nothing.
Hamas survived and Gaza was partially destroyed. A credible conclusion is that if Israel could not succeed in the former tactic, it was eager to accomplish the latter result.
If the reasons for the IDF attack were dubious, Israel’s control of press coverage sufficiently clouded reasons for the abrupt and unilateral cessation of hostilities. Speculation and analysis discloses several possible reasons for the rapid pullout. Israel of January 17, 2009 had no other choice but to cease its hostilities.
Israel’s complaint of extensive arms smuggling was proving doubtful
Similar to the 2006 invasion of Lebanon, Israeli forces slowly learned they had had nowhere to go except to kill more civilians. The Israeli forces neither exhibited many destroyed rocket launchers nor demonstrated harm to the supposed 10,000 Hamas armed insurgents. Except for the longer range Grad rockets, many of the rockets and mortars that shelled Israel were homemade devices. Therefore only the Grad rockets and some Qassam rockets, few of which did much damage, were smuggled into Gaza. Hamas demonstrated no military capability; that is no capability and not just limited capability– no surface to air missiles, no anti-tank rockets, no organized attacks on invading soldiers. Media descriptions of coming battles never materialized. Fighting, which requires two combatants, was an exaggerated word. Israeli forces moved forward without much fear of attack and with only ten reported deaths, of which five were accidental. Since Hamas didn’t display many weapons with which to fight, how much smuggling of meaningful armaments could have occurred? Neither facts nor images supported reports of weapons caches and weapons destruction. Israel’s soldiers must have felt contrite and questioned what they were doing.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said: “We must give Israel the guarantee that weapons will not pass through that border.” Apparently that is an easy guarantee; aside from the rockets, relatively few weapons seemed to have been used, captured or displayed. Israel’s principal reason for its attack was being exposed as a hollow defense of its violent tactics.
Loss of moral high ground
The Israel government realized they were losing any moral ground they had and separating from it quickly. Even previously friendly nations, such as Qatar, were cutting contacts. Israel did what the U.S. often refused to do, declare victory and rapidly leave.
Prime Minister Olmert insulted President Bush
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s outspoken claim that he influenced President Bush to abstain at a UN vote, which directly contradicted a strong and convincing image that Bush was trying to convey during his last days in office, must have disturbed the departing president. Olmert sensed he could lose major support from an angered Bush and Rice and that added to his doubts of continuing the onslaught.
The extent of the damage was exposed
One event that might have changed Israeli opinion from almost entirely favorable to their government’s attack to doubt and uncertainty was the appearance on Israel TV of a renowned, admired and often interviewed Gaza Doctor Ezzeldin Abu al-Aish. The well-known doctor related the wanton killing of three of his daughters by an Israeli shell. A tragedy that could not be repudiated must have affected all Israelis to realize the barbarity of their actions. Enough was enough.
Unwillingness to challenge a new United States administration
Finally, Israel faced an unknown: how would the new U.S. administration react to its invasion of Gaza? No government wants to face a possible challenge from a new United States administration that it wants to please.
Hamas looked bad but, in the end, emerged with more credibility. Israel initially looked good but, considering the final result, lost much consideration by a world troubled with its violent operations.
So, what does this portend for a Middle East future?
The attack on Gaza cannot remain an isolated incident that slowly fades into history. This attack has been etched into the psyche of an embittered Arab world. Sympathy for the Palestinians has been extended worldwide. These phenomena have dictated a new look at the Middle East contestants and a new approach to resolving the conflict. It’s possible we will witness more talk of defending the Palestinians and less of securing Israelis, more efforts by Arab nations of uniting the Arab world and its factions and less efforts by the western world to dictate a path to unification, more attempts to resolve Middle East problems and less considerations to Israel’s agendas.
These directions already have a start. Lebanon’s success in forming a more representative government, in which Hezbollah plays an increased role, has led to renewal of relations between Syria and Lebanon. Add Iraq to the arrangement and a gap is bridged between Iran and the Arab world. If they keep that ball rolling, there could be a more unified Arab world.
This direction might have driven Israel’s aggressiveness, a sub-text that provoked Israel to remove an irritant on its southern flank preparatory to engaging its northern neighbors. Considering the productive direction of the northern Arab nations and the counterproductive result of Israel’s attack on Gaza, the future of the Middle East might be highly positive for the Arab nations and severely discouraging, if not fatal, for the land of Israel.