The latest attacks came to global attention with the targeted assassination of militant leader Ahmed Jabari. This was touted as a response to an increasing number of rockets fired from Gaza into Israel, once again portraying Israel as the victim simply trying to defend itself. But in typical fashion, the majority of Western articles do not mention the context of the continuing occupation and siege of Gaza, and they also leave out some the recent events leading to the killing of Jabari, some of which are detailed here and here.
Ahmed Jabari was the commander of al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas. Over the previous year he was apparently responsible for calming military flare-ups between Gaza and Israel. Hours before his death, Jabari received a drawn up ceasefire agreement for the consideration of Hamas, an agreement which had taken weeks of negotiations and which was flagged as favourable by both sides of the conflict.
The timing of Jabari’s killing must be questioned - his assassination sabotaged the ceasefire agreement. However, a brief look at the previous Israeli attack on Gaza in 2008, named Operation Cast Lead, provides a clue that Israel probably did not desire that ceasefire:
Sources in the defense establishment said Defense Minister Ehud Barak instructed the Israel Defense Forces to prepare for [Operation Cast Lead] over six months ago, even as Israel was beginning to negotiate a ceasefire agreement with Hamas (source).
This means in 2008 Israel was planning an attack on Gaza while negotiating the terms of a ceasefire. History repeating itself in 2012?
October November Surprise
There are further similarities between 2008 and the current conflict. Both conflicts started during times of political uncertainty in Israel: in 2008 the ruling political party was facing leadership elections, problems forming a coalition government, and charges of corruption. This time, Israel is only two months from elections in January 2013, with some polls showing a decrease in popularity of Netanyahu’s Likud party, especially following a recent merger with an extreme right-wing party led by foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman.
A serious ceasefire with Hamas likely would have undermined much of what a right-wing party stands for, and paved the way for an increase in support for a more central political party. Is Netanyahu thinking a quick war will boost popularity and ensure Likud remains in power?
During Operation Cast Lead there were predictions that the attack was the beginning of a larger war in the Middle East with the ultimate goal of attacking Iran. That was not forthcoming. However, this time the situation may be more conducive for the warmongers. Iran’s close ally Syria is embroiled in its own problems. Israel may be attempting to weaken Hamas to the point where a future attack on Iran will not elicit a threat from Gaza. With Syria and Hamas out of the equation, Lebanon’s Hezbollah would be the only actor which could come to Iran’s aid.
If this is the case, the next step in the plan would be to take Hezbollah out of the equation. An indicator of an impending attack on Iran would therefore be an attack on Hezbollah or Lebanon, or some situation such as a civil war erupting in Lebanon involving Hezbollah. This would leave Iran without its closest allies. This plan may be what chief rabbi Sacks suspected when he stated about the conflict “I think it's got to do with Iran, actually.”
With Gazan rockets still hitting Israel, for the first time reaching Tel Aviv, Israel has now backed itself into a corner and can only escalate. This means a ground attack of Gaza supported by naval bombardment is likely – Israeli reserves have already been called up for this situation.
Unless the plan is to strike Iran by first taking out its allies, the conflict will likely be contained to Gaza alone. Expect an Israeli ground invasion, followed by condemnation from world leaders (having no real effect), and then an end once Israeli bloodlust has subsided. Any conflict erupting in Lebanon will likely signal an upcoming strike on Iran, perhaps even by the United States as Israel keeps its regional actors busy.
At the moment the conflict follows the pattern of Operation Cast Lead. That attack did not solve any of Israel’s problems, with rockets continuing to be fired from Gaza. It is unlikely this attack will have a different outcome.