November 17, 2012

Two Myths about Operation Pillar of Defense

Myth #1: Hamas started the conflict.

This has been the narrative of much of the mainstream press. The New York Times, for example, stated earlier this week that Israel began dropping bombs in Gaza “after persistent Palestinian rocket fire.”[1] But, as Paul Pillar points out, “who appears to be retaliating against whom depends on when you start the clock.” Although it’s true that Palestinian militants often fire rockets into Israel, it’s also true that Israel regularly aggresses against those living in Gaza.[2] The blockade itself is a continuous act of aggression, one which continues to cause tremendous suffering among Palestinians.[3]

Pillar further points out that, while many media outlets have stated that the recent conflict began when Palestinian militants attacked IDF soldiers on November 8, these outlets have generally failed to mention that the soldiers were attacked after they, buttressed by four tanks and a bulldozer, invaded Gaza.[4]

Myth #2: Netanyahu just wants peace; he only ordered the assault on Gaza to force Hamas to stop firing rockets into Israel.

If Netanyahu just wants peace, then it’s not clear why he ordered the assassination of Hamas military leader Ahmed al-Jabari on November 14. Jabari’s assassination, you’ll recall, triggered Hamas to declare that “the gates of hell” had been opened and to fire a flurry of rockets into Israel.[5] We now know that on the morning of his assassination Jabari received a cease-fire proposal from Israeli peace activist Gershon Baskin. Baskin has for the past few years served as a liaison between Israel and Hamas and helped secure the release of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in 2011.[6] Baskin recently learned that Jabari was interested in establishing a long-term ceasefire with Israel, and so he drafted a proposal with Hamas’ Deputy Foreign Minister, Ghazi Hamad. Baskin believes that the proposal had a good chance of working, for, unlike previous proposals, this one “included both a mechanism for dealing with impending terror threats and a clear definition of breaches.” Israeli security officials were aware of the proposal, and yet Israel assassinated Jabari on the very morning he received it.[7]

If Netanyahu wants peace, then it’s also not clear why he doesn’t end the blockade. For a strong case can be made that the blockade is the cause of Palestinian terrorism. Just about any group that was daily subjected to the brutality and humiliation of the blockade would respond by trying to strike back at its oppressors. At the very least Netanyahu could ease the blockade—e.g., by allowing more exports—when Hamas reigns in extremist groups. Hamas has shown that it’s willing and able to reign in such groups, but Israel has given it few incentives to do so. By reversing this policy, Netanyahu could do much to protect Israelis.[8]   

[1] Peter Hart, “When Does Israel/Palestine Violence Start?” FAIR, 11/15/12
[2] “The Symmetry and Asymmetry of Violence in Gaza,” The National Interest, 11/15/12
[3] UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs occupied Palestinian territory, “Easing the Blockade: Assessing the Humanitarian Impact on the Population of the Gaza Strip” [.pdf], March 2011.
[4] See also IMEU, “Timeline: Israel’s Latest Escalation in Gaza,”11/14/12.
[7]Israel’s Shortsighted Assassination,” New York Times, 11/16/12.
[8] Daniel Byman, “Israel’s Gamble in Gaza,” Foreign Affairs, 11/15/12.


Don Emmerich said...

I should also point out that Israel assassinated Jabari amid an Egyptian- brokered truce that the two sides reached November 13.

Don Emmerich said...

Correction: It was November 12.