The Israeli Defence Force (IDF) began on Wednesday a heavy bombardment of the Gaza strip with a targeted airstrike, killing Hamas military commander Ahmad al-Jabari and a passenger in his vehicle. The IDF cited his involvement in the hostage-taking of Gilad Shalit, an episode in the 2006 war on Lebanon, as its justification. Israel’s "Operation Pillar of Cloud" signals the largest escalation in the conflict since 2008-9 Gaza invasions. “This name invokes the Hebrew nation’s biblical pre-history – much as Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism conjures the Mahavamsa as an ideological tool in it’s very modern state military strategy,” comments Lorenzo Fiorito, an activist working with solidarity groups in Canada. “The present Gaza offensive has little to do with the individuals it has killed or with millenia-old founding myths – it has to do with the Palestinian claim to statehood,” he adds.
Within the range of Israeli public opinion, there are many explanations for the heavy assault. Israeli authorities point to a personal "revenge" motive in assassinating al-Jabari. The army lists Hamas rocket fire as deserving of retaliation. The Yeshiva World News blog reports, however, that Minister of Public Security Yitzchak Aharonovich stated Gazan rocket fire following the assassination was within the expected range of response.
For its part, Israeli daily Ha’aretz describes "another showy military action initiated by an outgoing government on the eve of an election….The external conflict helps a government strengthen its standing domestically because the public unites behind the army, and social and economic problems are edged off the national agenda." Economic questions have mobilized Israelis in mass civil disobedience against the present government over the last year.
The Ha’aretz column also pronounces the end of Ehud Olmert’s electoral aspirations; he had been expected to announce his candidacy to supporters yesterday evening. Olmert presided over the last invasion of Gaza; that move presaged his electoral defeat.
Yet even this "left" interpretation of the Gaza bombings falls short. Though Operation Pillar of Cloud was synchronized to these domestic considerations, the relevant issue is that one week ago, the Palestinian Authority circulated a draft resolution at the United Nations General Assembly to consider Palestine an "observer state."
Palestinian officials considered the likely outcome to be 115 "Yes" votes against approximately 22 "No" votes, with 56 abstentions. Such a vote would implicitly recognize Palestinian statehood. The US and Israel then implied that retaliatory measures might be taken.
With the present military operation underway against Gaza, Israel has publicly mused over the likelihood of overthrowing West Bank-based Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, if he continues with his plan to present the resolution to the UN General Assembly. According to Reuters, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz told Israel Radio that "the diplomatic onslaught by (Abbas) is a strategic threat no less severe than (Hamas’s) rockets. I am not in favor of crushing the Palestinian Authority but if there is no choice and it could unilaterally turn into a state that threatens Israel, we should not be afraid of tough steps."
Ironically, Israel’s current threats might reinforce Abbas’ public standing, while weakening his ability to act at the UN. Hamas official Salah Al-Bardaweel has also called for the overthrow of Abbas as a traitor to nationalist objectives. Abbas recently took a severe blow to his credibility among Palestinians by abdicating his own "right to return."
Commenting on this situation, Mr. Fiorito argues that “Tamils will find all of this painfully familiar – the blindness of ruling-nation progressives to their plight, the indiscriminate targeting of civilians as military authorities advise them to stay away from possible bombardment targets, the behind-the-scenes machinations among power brokers.”
“There is an important distinction, however. As the neighbouring Syrian conflict has become a focus for world powers, Russia’s recent interest in the investigation into Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s death may signal a possible geo-political realignment, of the kind absent for Tamils in 2009.”
“Palestinian self-determination is the key ingredient in Middle East politics today. The strategies employed against it, and the successes it may find at the UN, will both determine a great deal for the future of the Middle East and the course of world history,” he told TamilNet.