Just what is Israel up to?
Beyond Gaza, beyond Beirut: the true objectives of Israel
The events unfolding in the Gaza Strip and in Lebanon over the last few weeks are linked by timing and, above all, by the same political considerations. Observers are nearly unanimous in recognizing the disconnect between the objectives announced by the Israeli government (to free its soldier-prisoners and to prevent rocket attacks) and the systematic destruction of Palestinian and Lebanese civilian infrastructures. An investigation is in order of the real reasons behind these long-planned military campaigns in response to acts brought about by Israeli policies.
Israel’s policies are characterized by unilateralism, an idea conceived by Ariel Sharon with the support of Labour. Based solely on balance of power, it aims to restate the dissuasive capability of the State of Israel through violence inflicted on civilian populations to impose its own solutions on the entire region while relying on the acquiescence of the international community.
To rally the world to the defense of its interests, justified as community security, the Israeli government has relied for years on the radicalization of its enemies. Thus, the evacuation of its settlers and army in 2005 was never meant to signify the end to the military occupation of Gaza but to impose a new, far more repressive form of domination even if conducted from the outside. The everyday life of a population on the brink of humanitarian catastrophe has supplied the explosive for ongoing violence; the detonator was the targeted assassinations and air strikes.
Today, like yesterday, the Israeli government conducts a policy of delegitimizing the Palestinian leadership, whether that leader is Yassir Arafat, Mahmoud Abbas (Prime Minister then President of the Palestinian Authority) or Ismael Haniyyeh. It would be mistaken to think that Prime Minister Olmert seeks to topple Haniyyeh only to put Fatah and Abbas back in the saddle. No partner will do. Today’s violence diverts attention once again from the realities of the West Bank while piling up Israeli “justifications”.
The construction of the wall, which will never protect against rocket attacks and only marginally prevents suicide missions, continues at full speed. Its purpose is to provide a material demarcation for the unilateral tracing of the borders of Israel, which is determined to control water resources in the West Bank while preventing the creation of a viable Palestinian state in the real sense of the word. The announcement of a possible retreat from a few fringe settlements on the West Bank is accompanied by the intensification of colonization at its core. The violence of incursions and bombings is thus joined to the infernal condition of everyday life. The new policy of banishment of ever increasing categories of Palestinians and resident foreigners implemented over the last few months represents another aspect of this finality as summed up by Israeli researcher Tanya Reinhart: “How to end the war of 1947-1948?”
By attributing the responsibility for today’s violence to Hamas and Hezbollah alone, the international community knowingly acts as a conduit for Israeli arguments. A sinister mechanism is turning and no one knows how it will end. As in the past, it appears that the Israeli Government is driving its adversaries to commit acts that will then serve as one more Israeli justification to the international community for new initiatives that in turn will provoke fresh violence? From Hamas and Gaza we’ve migrated to Hezbollah and Lebanon. Is the finish line for this insane race really Damascus or Tehran?
As the end of George Bush’s term of office approaches, the international community is now in a phase of tense relations with Syria as well as with Iran. Will this conjuncture, now that Iraq is prostrate, be seized by the Israeli government to settle on its own terms the question of its most encumbering neighbors? If so, what will it cost to the rest of the world? Once again, the Palestinians will find themselves in “zugzwang”, as they say in chess --forced by the Israeli government to make a losing play. Will the international community let itself be swept along into this kind of strategy yet again?
Jean Legrain is a researcher for the CNRS (National Center for Scientific Research) /GREMMO (Research and Study Group for the Mediterranean and Middle-East) --Maison de l'Orient et de la Méditerranée-Lyon (Orient and Mediterranean House, Lyon)