Confusion on the strip: Why Timing is Important to Understand Israel’s AttacksCub Pub editorials are back, and so is columnist Ben Rimland, taking a stance on the Israel’s controversial operations in Gaza.
On November 14, 2012, the Israel Defense Forces launched a series of strikes into Gaza named Operation Pillar of Defense. Utilizing drones, manned aircraft, and naval assets in the Mediterranean sea, the IDF killed Ahmed Jabri, the leader of Hamas’ military wing, and targeted a number of short and long-range missile sites located within the territory of Gaza.
The purpose of this post is neither to expose Israel as a victim nor aggressor. Nor is it to condemn nor condone Gaza’s actions. I am not audacious enough to try and make such divisive judgements. What I do hope to explain, however, is just why Israel’s decision to strike now is so puzzling.
Certainly, Israel’s security apparatus, both its military and intelligence services, are no strangers to acting unilaterally and decisively. The numbers of Iranian scientists, Hezbollah and Hamas militants and combatants found dead or killed in suspicious circumstances in recent years is testament to this fact. Israel has proven that it will employ targeted killings, with little or no warning, to do what it must to avert what it sees as existential threats. Even today’s attacks are not without precedent. The 2008-2009 IDF invasion of Gaza, accompanied by significant amounts of targeted airstrikes, provided something of a template for the aerial assaults of the present day. The common thread through all of these instances was a swift denial of wrongdoing, or, in the case of the Gaza incursion, a quick assertion that a rise in recent rocket attacks necessitated a response. The killings and incursions, then, are employed in the hopes of returning to the status quo.
This is what makes the November 14th attacks so puzzling to me. Though the shaky ceasefire between Hamas and Israel has become even more strained in recent weeks, the level of rocket fire from Gaza into southern Israel has not come close to levels immediately before the ‘08 invasion, and no civilians or soldiers have died or been injured from attacks– as was the case with the 2006 Lebanon war. With no pressing existential threat to destroy, there was no direct action taken by Hamas for the IDF to counter. The man targeted was the commander of Hamas’ paramilitary wing, and has been seen numerous times in the public eye, most notably during last year’s exchange of Gilad Shalit for numerous Palestinian prisoners. Importantly, the attack is coming as Israeli tanks in the Golan Heights recently shelled and destroyed Syrian mobile artillery units in response to stray shells that entered Israeli territory. With no immediate and direct threat to its existence, it would seem that Israel is on the cusp of opening a conflict on two separate fronts.
The IDF is supposed to function like a scalpel. It is a surgical fighting force, but one that is enormously powerful and precise for its size. Potentially opening itself up to conflicts on two fronts on opposite sides of the country risks creating a scenario in which the IDF is split between fighting in Gaza and defending the Golan. And, though they are potent, the Shin Bet (Israeli internal security) and Mossad (Israeli intelligence) will be left strained from combating Hamas, preventing the nation from being sucked into conflict in Syria, and continuing to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program. I have no doubts in the professionalism or power of the Israeli security apparatus, but it operates on the premise of employing quick, overpowering and decisive force to overwhelm its enemies before they can respond. Both Hamas and Syria have proven to be resilient advisories, and it is possible that Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad may, in an act of desperation, use Israel’s recent attacks on his armed forces to launch a protracted campaign of harassment or even declare war. Either scenario means that the IDF would be too overextended to return the region to the status quo
While I do not question’s Israel’s right to defend itself, I do question the timing of its actions. And, with the United Nations General Assembly voting on whether to upgrade Palestine’s status, this new attack, coupled with remarks that imply that Israel would attempt to topple the Fatah government in the event of an affirmative vote, may give a pretext for some of Israel’s more tentative allies to vote in favor of the Palestinians. Though it is possible that Israel may have simply wanted to flex its military muscle ahead of the General Assembly’s decision, that show of force could have been accomplished without possibly opening up the country to attacks on two fronts.
As I am not a member of Prime Minister’s Netanyahu’s security cabinet, I was not privy to the discussions that led to this attack. But, I will humbly offer my own speculation as to why it has happened now. Though Likud, and Netanyahu’s leadership by extension, has held a significant lead in recent polls, some have suggested that the party of Ehud Olmert, a moderate, may be poised to make a political comeback over fears that Israel’s relationship with the U.S. has been compromised. With early elections set for January, it is possible that Netanyahu may have moved the schedule up on these strikes in the hope of the Israeli people rallying back to Likud, the party that is seen as toughest on security. I can only hope, then, that this attack will not come at a greater cost to the people of Israel.