To save himself, Netanyahu is going to war with Gaza

Even as Israel becomes chronically unable to form a government, the ‘Gaza consensus’ — the endless pounding of the strip into oblivion — persists. It could tip the scales in Netanyahu’s favor.

Palestinians evacuate the wounded from Israeli air strikes in Gaza City on November 12, 2019. Earlier in the day an Israeli air strike killed Palestinian Islamic Jihad field commander Baha Abu Al-Atta. (Fadi Fahd/Flash90)
Palestinians evacuate the wounded from Israeli air strikes in Gaza City on November 12, 2019. Earlier in the day an Israeli air strike killed Palestinian Islamic Jihad field commander Baha Abu al-Atta. (Fadi Fahd/Flash90)

There is no military solution in Gaza. But Israel’s leaders, who are too much at loggerheads to sit in a government together, are somehow able to agree that when it comes to maintaining Israel’s 12-year siege, there is only room for violent tinkering.

To save himself, Netanyahu is going to war with Gaza

That violence was on full display early Tuesday morning, when Israel assassinated Islamic Jihad commander Baha Abu al-Ata in his Gaza home while he slept; the projectile also killed his wife and wounded his four children. Meanwhile, the son of another Islamic Jihad leader was killed in a separate strike, widely attributed to Israel, in Damascus overnight. Prime Minister Netanyahu said the targeted assassination of Abu al-Ata, which Israel refers to as a “surgical strike,” was a necessary pre-emptive measure to stop what he termed a “ticking time bomb.”

Few Israelis were aware of Abu al-Ata until a few months ago, when military intelligence accused him of orchestrating a number of rocket attacks on southern Israel and of planning several more, breaching the ceasefire agreements negotiated between Israel and Islamic Jihad’s rival political group, Hamas.

The Israeli army rarely takes credit for initiating a military confrontation with Gaza. To save himself, Netanyahu is going to war with GazaUsually, the political and defense establishments pin the blame on Palestinian terror groups for firing rockets indiscriminately into Israeli territory. Israel, according to its own narrative, retaliates only when provoked.

Islamic Jihad militants responded to Abu al-Ata’s assassination by firing over 190 rockets into southern and central Israel, paralyzing nearly half the country. The Israeli Air Force launched attacks on what it said were a number of Islamic Jihad targets, killing at least six Palestinians and wounding 30. As of this writing, Hamas and Islamic Jihad announced that the “real response” to Abu al-Ata’s killing had yet to begin.

Israeli commentators were quick to point out that Abu al-Ata’s assassination was reminiscent of that of Ahmed Jabari, the former second-in-command of Hamas’ armed wing who was killed by Israel seven years ago this week. Jabari’s killing was also followed by rocket attacks, which precipitated Operation Pillar of Defense. More than 100 Palestinians and two Israeli soldiers were killed in that military operation.

At a press conference held Tuesday morning, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi, flanked by Netanyahu and Shin Bet head Nadav Argaman, said that Abu al-Ata was responsible for undermining Israel’s ceasefire efforts with Hamas, and that they had chosen to carry out a targeted killing only after previous efforts to stop him had failed. In September, the security establishment and Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit blocked Netanyahu’s order to carry out a targeted assassination of a then-unknown figure during the run-up to the election.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi at a press conference following a security cabinet meeting on the day Israel assassinated a top Islamic Jihad commander, November 12, 2019. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi at a press conference following a security cabinet meeting on the day Israel assassinated a top Islamic Jihad commander, November 12, 2019. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“We are not interested in an escalation, but we are ready — on the ground, in the air, and at sea. If necessary we will return to our policy of targeted assassinations,” Kochavi told the reporters.

Abu al-Ata is the second Palestinian militia commander to die in an extrajudicial killing this year alone. In May, the IDF assassinated Hamed Ahmed Khudary, a Hamas field commander who was allegedly responsible for transferring funds from outside Gaza to militant

To save himself, Netanyahu is going to war with Gaza
Mourners attend the funeral of seven members of the Abu Malhous family killed by an Israeli airstrike, during their funeral, Deir al-Balah, central Gaza Strip, November 14, 2019. (Hassan Jedi/Flash90)

groups inside the strip. After refraining for years from using aerial attacks to assassinate Palestinian leaders in the occupied territories, the unanswered question is why the security establishment suddenly decided to eliminate two “ticking time bombs” in less than six months, and whether Abu al-Ata posed such a threat that killing him was worth the price of another cycle of violence.

The timing of this assassination also raises questions. Netanyahu has long been accused by critics of exacerbating or initiating military operations as an escape route from his political or legal quagmires. He is facing indictments for corruption, and probably prefers the prospect of dealing with that as the prime minister of a unity government, rather than during a third election campaign or while sitting in the opposition. That’s where his political rival Benny Gantz, head of the Blue and White party and former IDF Chief of Staff, comes in.

Gantz is facing enormous pressure to form a unity government with Netanyahu in order to avoid a third election, while simultaneously trying to dodge criticism by the Israeli right over the possibility that he might form a minority government backed by the Joint List. (Less than 24 hours before Abu al-Ata’s assassination, Netanyahu tweeted a three-month old video of Palestinian MK Ahmad Tibi saying that his party would leave the government if Israel started bombing Gaza). Netanyahu, then, hopes the security situation will be the key to the former IDF chief of staff’s heart.

To save himself, Netanyahu is going to war with GazaGantz sees eye-to-eye with the prime minister on security issues, particularly on Gaza. When he launched his election campaign earlier this year, the Blue and White leader presented as one of his credentials a boast about how many Palestinians he killed during the 2014 war. Few, then, were surprised when he released a statement on Tuesday praising the IDF for making “the right decision,” adding that he had received updates on the strike before it was carried out. “Blue and White will support any justified action taken to keep Israel safe, and we place the security of our residents above politics,” Gantz said.

Even as Israel is becoming chronically unable to form a government, the “Gaza consensus” — the endless pounding of the strip into oblivion — persists, and could tip the scales in Netanyahu’s favor.

But try as they might to create consensus, Israel’s leadership will sooner or later have to reconcile with the fact that there is no military solution to the siege. The notion that Israel can simply take out militants, bomb people into submission, cut down hundreds of protesters on the Gaza fence, or turn the blockade into the most excruciatingly permanent feature of Israel’s five-decade military dictatorship, is a chimeric one. And it is precisely the kind of deceit that is dangerous for both Palestinians who are cut off from the world and relegated to a life of perpetual violence and destitution, and Israelis who want to live and make sure their children come home safe.

7 responses to “To save himself, Netanyahu is going to war with Gaza”

  1. Tori says:

    I saw how during the shelling people were hiding behind their cars. This is terrible!

  2. Itshak Gordine says:

    t is not the Prime Minister who decides whether he will eliminate a terrorist who has blood on his hands or who is preparing to carry out attacks. The army and the various secret services offer him possible dates and the prime minister gives the green light. To come back to the eliminated terrorist leader, he was constantly changing his home. It was to eliminate it with the least number of victims. Moreover almost all Israeli parties supported the action except the Arab parties and some leftists.

    • Ben says:

      There’s a good propaganda-fed puppy, good boy! One Bibi-Biscuit for you today for falling in line and wagging your tail. Netanyahu has proved time and again that there is nothing too cynical to stoop to for exploiting, that his personal interests (splitting Arab and Jewish parties and strangling in its infancy any coming together…avoiding prison) can be repackaged as national security priorities that then dictate his government’s policies. And everyone knows it. It’s people in your camp though that both know it and think it’s more than fine.
      As Chemi Shalev wrote in the Israel’s Haaretz, “The minority government is now off the table. Relations between Israeli Jews and Arabs are bound to reverse course and to head downhill. Not for the first time, the end result was Netanyahu 1, Israel 0.”

    • David says:

      As the respected human rights organization Human Rights Watch correctly declared in 2005: “…Israel will continue to be an Occupying Power [of the Gaza Strip] under international law and bound by the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention because it will retain effective control over the territory and over crucial aspects of civilian life. Israel will not be withdrawing and handing power over to a sovereign authority – indeed, the word ‘withdrawal’ does not appear in the [2005 disengagement] document at all… The IDF will retain control over Gaza’s borders, coastline, and airspace, and will reserve the right to enter Gaza at will. According to the Hague Regulations, ‘A territory is considered occupied when it is actually placed under the authority of the hostile army. The occupation extends only to the territory where such authority has been established and can be exercised’. International jurisprudence has clarified that the mere repositioning of troops is not sufficient to relieve an occupier of its responsibilities if it retains its overall authority and the ability to reassert direct control at will.”

      The International Committee of the Red Cross: “The whole of Gaza’s civilian population is being punished for acts for which they bear no responsibility. The closure therefore constitutes a collective punishment imposed in clear violation of Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian law. The Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, ratified by Israel, bans collective punishment of a civilian population.”

      “In practice, Gaza has become a huge, let me be blunt, concentration camp for right now 1,800,000 people” – Amira Hass, 2015, correspondent for Haaretz, speaking at the Forum for Scholars and Publics at Duke University. Hass, an Israeli who has won numerous awards for her reporting, has been covering the region since the early 90s.

      “‘The significance of the [then proposed] disengagement plan [implemented in 2005] is the freezing of the peace process,’ Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s senior adviser Dov Weisglass has told Ha’aretz. ‘And when you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, and you prevent a discussion on the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda. And all this with authority and permission. All with a [U.S.] presidential blessing [i.e. President George Bush] and the ratification of both houses of Congress.’ Weisglass, who was one of the initiators of the disengagement plan, was speaking in an interview with Ha’aretz for the Friday Magazine. ‘The disengagement is actually formaldehyde,’ he said. ‘It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians.’” (Top PM Aide: Gaza Plan Aims to Freeze the Peace Process, Ha’aretz, October 6, 2004)

      • Lewis from Afula says:

        More blatant lies from David.
        The only Israeli who is currently “occupying” Aza is a man suffering from schizophrenia who wondered across the border several years ago. Since then, He has been held hostage by your “progressive friends” ie the Polygamous, Gay-murdering Honor Killing religious fanatics.

        Israel is obviously NOT occupying Aza because it
        ………………….Aza in 2005.

        You should give up all your linguistic tricks, sophisticated grammatical manoevering and legalese nonsense. Nobody is buying it anymore.

        The fact that Aza is a teethering human cesspit is a fault of the Hamas & Islamic Jihad who now run the place. These thugs have pocketed most of the Billions they got from Qatar and other places and its ended up in their Swiss Bank accounts. The rest has been invsted in terror tunnels, incendiary balloons and katusha rockets.

  3. Helen Oster says:

    1) I hope you are making the same statements about Egypt, which also shares a border with Aza
    2) Israel’s plan of unilateral disengagement from the Aza was carried out on 15 August 2005.
    3) Prior to the 900 families leaving Aza, there was little in the way of an economic gap between the Palestinians in the strip and those in Judea & Samaria.
    4) Had Hamas not taken over the strip, tens of thousands of Gazans would be working in Israel and there would not be this sickening level of violence between different factions, as well as towards Israel.
    5) The ancient synagogue of Gaza was built in 508 AD during the Byzantine period and was discovered in 1965. It was located in the ancient port city of Gaza, then known as “Maiumas”, currently the Rimal district of Gaza City.
    6) Mohammed was born on April 22, 571 AD, Mecca, Saudi Arabia – 63 years AFTER that Synagogue was built.
    7)The earliest settlement of the area is by Avraham and Yitzhak, both of whom were Jews, and who lived in the Gerar area of Gaza.
    8) In the fourth century Gaza was the primary Jewish port of Israel for international trade and commerce.
    9) Great medieval rabbis such as Rabbi Yisrael Najara, author of Kah Ribon Olam, and Mekubal Rabbi Avraham Azoulai, were rabbis in Gaza Jewish communities.
    10) Jews were present in Gaza until 1929, when they were forced to leave the area due to violent riots against them by the Arabs. Some Jews returned, however, and, in 1946, kibbutz Kfar Darom was established.
    11) What do you mean by “inalienable rights to their homes and land”?
    12) “Palestinians are a myth” says Hamas Minister of the Interior & National Security, Fathi Hammad “they are just Saudis and Egyptians”:

    • Ben says:

      This is a mishmash of dishonesties and irrelevancies. Why am I not surprised that a settler deviously misquotes an Egyptian TV ranter, in terms of the context of his rant and his actual words? Which one of Itshak’s “great sages” told you it is permitted to lie for Greater Israel?