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The Political Logic of Zionism

Understanding Israel’s Latest Attack on Gaza – and Who Benefits

“Both sides need to de-escalate.”

“No one benefits from this. ”

You’ll hear a lot of statements like that from pundits, elected officials,
government spokespeople, and mainstream media anytime there’s violence in Israel-Palestine.

In the last few days, Israeli war planes, armed drones, and artillery mounted
on tanks have killed more than 119 Palestinians in the besieged and blockaded
Gaza Strip. Thirty-one of them were children. Rocket fire from Gaza left eight
Israelis, including one child dead.

It’s easy to say no one benefits. But it’s not true.

Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, has a whole lot to gain from this
assault – among other things, it may keep him out of jail. More broadly, Israel’s
strategic military planners have been waiting for another attack on Gaza. And
for Israel’s arms manufacturers, assaulting Gaza is what the leading Israeli
daily newspaper Ha’aretz has called “a
cash cow
.”

A Series of Provocations

It’s important to understand the specific factors that led to the current escalation
in Israel’s horrific air war against Gaza.

The Hamas rocket fire that began on May 10 did not come out of nowhere. It
was a response to Israeli police and settler attacks against Palestinians in
Jerusalem, indeed across much of the West Bank as well.

Those attacks included demolitions to force Palestinians out of their homes
and the continuing threat of eviction for families in the
Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood
of occupied East Jerusalem. They included police
denying
Palestinians access
to the steps of the Damascus Gate of the Old City, their
traditional gathering place to share iftar (sunset) meals during the fasting
month of Ramadan.

And they included the deliberate provocation – not only to Palestinians but
to Muslims everywhere – of Israeli
police raiding the al-Aqsa Mosque
, the third holiest site in all of Islam,
shooting stun grenades, tear gas, and rubber bullets at worshipers at morning
prayer in and around the mosque.

Meanwhile, given the experience of Gaza’s 2 million people – half
of whom are children
and around three-quarters
of whom are refugees
, who have lived through 14 years of a crippling Israeli
blockade of the overcrowded, impoverished strip – it was hardly a surprise
that such provocative actions would lead to a military response from Hamas.

But these actions don’t explain Israel’s choice – and it was certainly a choice
– to immediately escalate its military assault to the level of full-scale war.
So what does explain it?

Netanyahu’s Troubles

For starters, politics.

Prime Minister Netanyahu is on trial and facing years in jail for a wide range
of corruption charges. As long as he remains prime minister, he can’t be jailed
– but if he loses his ruling coalition, as he was on the verge of doing just
before this crisis, he could go to prison.

So for Netayanhu, maintaining public support is not just a political goal but
an urgent personal necessity. The mobilization of troops and the sight of Israel’s
military in action allows him to reprise his longstanding role as the ultimate
“protector” of Israel against its “enemy” – whoever the chosen enemy du jour
might be.

It might be Iran (which, unlike
Israel
, does not have a nuclear weapon or a nuclear weapons program). It
might be the nonviolent BDS (Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions) campaign,
which leading Israeli leaders equate with Iran as an existential threat. Or
it might be Gaza – as it was in 2008-2009, 2012, and especially for the
50 days of Israeli bombardment in 2014 that left
2,202 Palestinians, including 526 children, dead
.

Netanyahu’s political capital is also bound up with his claim to be the only
Israeli leader who can maintain the key levels of absolute impunity and uncritical
economic and political support from the United States. Certainly the
Trump years
were characterized by Washington’s warmest embrace of Netanyahu’s
right-wing government and the most extremist pro-Israel policies to date. But
so far President Biden, presumably convinced that moving to restore the Iran
nuclear deal means no other pressure on Israel is possible, has recalibrated
only the rhetoric.

Washington’s actual support for Israel – including $3.8
billion in military support every year
and the one-sided “Israel has the
right of self-defense” rhetoric that refuses to acknowledge any such right to
the Palestinians – remains in place. And history shows us that direct U.S. backing
– in the form of additional cash and weapons as well as effusive statements
of support – rise when Israeli troops are on the attack.

“Mowing the Grass”

Beyond the political advantages, there are strategic advantages for Israel
to go to war against Gaza. Despite the withdrawal of Israeli settlers and troops
from inside the Gaza Strip in 2005, since 2007 Gaza has remained under an Israeli-imposed
blockade and siege. It is, under international law, still
occupied
.

And for years, Israel’s strategy towards Gaza and the Palestinians who live
there has been one of absolute control. Israel controls who can enter or exit
Gaza, which means control over people’s lives – and deaths. In the past, Israel
has determined exactly how many calories Gazans should be able to eat each day
– to “put
them on a diet,”
as Israeli military officials said in 2006.

And not surprisingly, Palestinian resistance to the years of siege and occupation
in Gaza has at times included military resistance.

During the 2014 war, the influential Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies
issued a report endorsing what had already become a standard approach for Israel
toward Gaza. It was called “Mowing
the Grass in Gaza,”
and it described the lethal military assault as being
“in accordance with a ‘mowing the grass’ strategy. After a period of military
restraint, Israel is acting to severely punish Hamas for its aggressive behavior,
and degrading its military capabilities – aimed at achieving a period of quiet.”

The report ignored the fact that Israel is an occupying power, that the people
of Gaza are protected civilians, and that collective punishment, the destruction
of civilian infrastructure, and the use of dramatically disproportionate levels
of violence are all violations of international humanitarian law, the Geneva
Conventions, and more. The report’s author was unequivocal that “a war of attrition
against Hamas is probably our fate for the long term, and we will quite frequently
need to strike Gaza in order keep the enemy off balance.”

Initiating periods of intense violence in Gaza, even when the resistance was
nonviolent such as the
2018 Great March of Return
, has been Israel’s approach ever since.

Israel’s Arms Industry

Finally, these frequent attacks on Gaza have provided a critically valuable
testing ground for the Israeli weapons manufacturers whose export deals – worth
$7.2 billion in 2019
– represent a huge component of Israel’s GDP.

During the height of the 2014 assault, Ha’aretz
reported
that the company’s factories “worked around the clock turning
out munitions as the army tested their newest systems against a real enemy.
Now, they are expecting their battle-tested products will win them new customers.”

“Combat is like the highest seal of approval when it comes to the international
markets,” explained Barbara Opall-Rome, the Israel bureau chief for Defense
News told Ha’aretz. “What has proven itself in battle is much easier
to sell. Immediately after the operation, and perhaps even during, all kinds
of delegations arrive here from countries that appreciate Israel’s technological
capabilities and are interested in testing the new products.”

“From a business point of view,” concluded the editor of Israel Defense,
“the operation was an outstanding thing for the defense industries.”

As I write this seven years later, Israel’s latest air war against Gaza continues.
Ground troops are massed outside the Strip, with tank-mounted artillery weapons
aimed at 2 million people crammed into one of the most crowded territories on
the earth. Half an hour ago a
family of six was killed
in their home as tank and air strikes continue.

Far beyond some claim of “self-defense,” are there other reasons Israel might
once again be on the attack? When you look at who benefits, the answer might
not be so complicated after all.

Phyllis Bennis directs the New Internationalism Project at the Institute
for Policy Studies. She’s the author of Understanding
ISIS and the New Global War on Terror: A Primer
.
Reprinted with
permission from Foreign Policy In Focus.

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