Count the DEAD Count the VOTES

The carnage in Gaza was driven by hardliners to win the popular vote in the coming elections in Israel

Harsh Dobhal Delhi, Hardnews

It was the flesh and blood of Palestinians at stake yet again. This time Israel struck in exceptional hurry, with precise, prompt and prolonged strikes, attributing its actions to ‘provocation' from Hamas -firing Qassam rockets into Israel.' The truth is that these rockets impacted a dot on the map compared to the brutal military death machine unleashed by the cynical hardliners in Tel Aviv for three relentless weeks. Indeed, Israel appeared to be rushing desperately fast in its deadly offensive as if running out of time to finish the job days before next month's general elections, as also just in time for Barack Obama's arrival at the Oval Office. As if it was trying to set the tone for the terms of endearment under the new president. Is Israel afraid that the new American dispensation could deviate from the unquestioning support Washington has provided to the Jewish State in the past 60 years - despite the heinous and relentless crimes committed against the Palestinians?

In this extremely disproportionate war, Israel is equipped with state-of-the-art weaponry - satellite technology, modern tanks, warplanes, air force, navy. Compared to this, Hamas had almost nothing. As Israel attacked with utmost fury, it garnered tacit international support and managed to silence the global media while attacking even UN buildings. The UNRWA (United Nations Relief Work Agency) building was not spared and UN-run schools were targeted where people and children had gone to seek shelter from the Israeli death machines. As in Lebanon in 2006, in sheer disregard of international law, Israel once again made it clear that it does not want UN bodies to be anywhere near what Tel Aviv perceives to be its target areas.

Now that the senseless attacks have been halted ‘temporarily' and an unstable, fragile ceasefire is in place, let us look at the political landscape that formed the backdrop for this offensive. This includes stated political goals of Israel, its hidden agenda, what has been achieved/lost on the ground and how the post-war political reality has changed in this land of infinite conflict.

‘Operation Cast Lead,' as Israel called the carnage, had been meticulously planned for months and the US, European Union and some Arab countries were aware; they provided silent encouragement. Nothing substantial was done by the international community. Many international organisations termed these attacks as war crimes, but not a word of real condemnation or denunciation from any western leader or institution was expressed.

Even a big chunk of the academia remained tight-lipped. As Israeli Professor Neve Gordon said, not one of the 450 presidents of American colleges and universities - who prominently denounced an effort by British academics to boycott Israeli universities in September 2007 - raised their voice in opposition to Israel's bombardment of the Islamic University of Gaza. The world has witnessed unprecedented and shameful global silence on crimes of such magnitude. 

The foremost goal of Israel is what it calls achieving a ‘stable cease-fire' by preventing arms smuggling into the Gaza Strip. The logic is that the Israeli army would damage Hamas' military capability, stop rocket attacks into Israel, and consequently remove Hamas from government. Also, ever since Hamas democratically won the Gaza elections in 2006, Israel has wanted to reinstall PLO's (Palestinian Liberation Organisation) Mahmoud Abbas.

Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, is a Fatah leader currently in-charge of the West Bank. He is known to be a lackey of the US and Israel. Palestinians have always been suspicious of Abbas. Time and again Washington and Tel Aviv have pushed this man against Yasser Arafat (when he was alive) and Hamas. This has weakened him politically, seriously undermining his position in the eyes of Palestinians. Israel's desire to strengthen Fatah and Abbas will suffer a major blow as most Palestinians see Abbas as a representative of Israel and the US in particular, and the West in general. The second objective of destroying Hamas is far from complete. Israel has failed on this front. Hamas stubbornly refused to surrender despite tremendous pressure by the US, EU and some Arab countries. It put up a brave face in the war and is back in action in Gaza delivering relief work.  Like in Lebanon in the summer of 2006, Israel has cut a sorry figure this time too. People across the world have felt intense repulsion and disgust at the brazenly enacted barbarism of Israel, especially the mass murder of children and civilians. Though there can't be a direct comparison between Lebanon-based Hezbollah's strength then and Hamas now, the ‘rulers of Gaza' have claimed ‘victory'. Hamas fired rockets into Israel after the unilateral ceasefire. Needless to say, Israel too has claimed - an unconvincing -victory.

The loss of hunderds of its cadres and a few prominent leaders has hurt Hamas and its military capability. But there is no evidence to believe that the organisation has been significantly weakened as a political force or that its appeal has declined. The larger Islamic movement is definitely going to grow after this carnage. Hamas, a robust and disciplined organisation, is bound to increase its grassroots base. All Israeli attempts to weaken it through military attacks or to force it to surrender or bow to Israeli demands have always ended up in making Hamas stronger. This time around, apart from consolidating its base in Gaza in the short and long run, Hamas may also gain popularity in the West Bank.

Let us also not forget that Hamas, formed at the beginning of the first Intifada in late 1980s, is not known only for its suicide attacks against Israel. It is popular in occupied territories for its network of welfare work; it symbolises Palestinian dignity, defending their rights and standing by the people during crisis and despair. It is widely appreciated for its stoic honesty and clean conduct in contrast with decades of corruption of the Palestinian Authority.

As in many Israeli offensives against Palestinians, the real objectives of this criminally disproportionate onslaught were totally different. Just before the upcoming February 10 elections in Israel,  the attacks were necessitated by cynical internal politics. In the fight between the Right and Far Right, the decision to sacrifice the lives of innocent Palestinians by the incumbent parties was aimed at seeking political advantage. Rightwing Likud party leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, was ahead in ratings of the ruling Kadima (formed by hardliner Ariel Sharon after resigning from his Rightwing Likud party). He was also leading against the Labour Party (centrist) forces aligned with the Kadima. The Gaza assault was carried out to snatch this base from Netanyahu, the warmonger who has always characterised his main competitors Tzipi Livni (foreign minister and Kadima leader) and Ehud Barak (defence minister and Labour leader) as ‘soft' on Palestinians.

The attack on Gaza has made it difficult for Netanyahu to flay his rivals for being less nationalist than him. That these three leaders, outdoing each other in beating the war drums, are the three major contenders for the PM's post next month, reflects the new low of the cynical political chess game of the Jewish State.

Another hidden objective was to use Gaza as a laboratory to reclaim its moral confidence lost at the hands of the Hezbollah during the war in 2006 in Lebanon.  It was about restoring Israel's dented reputation as an invincible military might in the region. The country has a history of deliberately resorting to aggression to provoke a reaction; and then, it portrays itself as a victim, and uses it as a pretext for disproportionate military actions.

If Israel thinks it can break the backbone of the protracted Palestinian resistance, it is flying on the wings of illusion. It has failed to achieve that in the past and it won't achieve that now. What Israel has gained or lost after this war strategically and militarily is difficult to assess right away, but two things have become much clear. One, this war was not at all about stopping the Qassam rocket attacks into Israel; and two, Hamas has succeeded in convincing the Palestinians (and sensible people across the world) that resistance to illegal military occupation and barbarism is not a choice but the only legitimate political option.

The writer did post-doctoral in political science from Hebrew University, Jerusalem. He is currently Editor, Combat Law