Israel is in the midst of a four-day-long (so far) offensive against Palestinians in Gaza. dozens of Israeli airstrikes across Gaza have now killed 24 Palestinians, including a 15-year-old school boy, and wounded at least 73.
Israel's offensive began Friday night with the assassination of Zuhair al-Qaisi, a commander of the Popular Resistance Committees, and Mahmoud Hanani. Israel accused the PRC of planning an attack on Israel through the Sinai, though Israel provided no details or corroborating evidence. It should be noted that Israel made precisely this claim in August, 2011, blaming the PRC for an attack from the Sinai and using this as an excuse to repeatedly bomb Gaza. Israel later admitted that Sinai Bedouin were behind the attack, not the PRC.
Following Israel's first attacks, the PRC responded by firing back at Israel. Israel then increased its attacks, and the PRC was joined by Islamic Jihad in firing rockets into Israel. Egypt and Hamas are currently trying to broker a ceasefire agreement between the two sides.
It is uncertain how many times Israel has bombed Gaza since, while Palestinian rockets fired at Israel are carefully counted by Western media, Israeli attacks are not. However, the casualties just in the last 24 hours include at least three civilians killed:
- a 15-year-old boy, Nayif Shaaban Karmout, killed on a playground,
- a 65-year old man, Muhammad al-Hasoumi, 65,
- his 30-year-old daughter, Fayza Hasoumi.
Additionally, at least 73 have been wounded, mostly civilians, including 19 children and 7 women just in the last 24 hours. As one example:
At approximately 02:00 also on Monday, an Israeli warplane fired a missile at a house belonging to Bahjat Mohammed Hammad near Jabalya Martyrs Elementary School in ‘Izbat ‘Abed Rabbu in the northern Gaza Strip town of Jabalya. The missile hit the first floor of the three-storey house, where 9 individuals, including 3 children live. As a result, the house was completely destroyed and 7 members of the family, including 3 children and 3 women, were wounded. Eighteen neighboring houses were also affected by the missile, 3 of them sustained heavy damages. Twelve members of the Abu al-‘Eish family, including 3 children and two women, and 7 members of the Sukkar family, including 5 children, were also wounded. The houses of the two families are adjacent to the targeted house. In addition, 350 windows, 7 wooden and 3 iron doors in the above school were damaged. Two windows from the Palestine Red Crescent Society premises were also destroyed.
On the Israeli side, approximately six civilians, including an 80-year-old woman, have been injured by Palestinian rockets, with two others injured in a car crash blamed on the rocket fire. According to CBS,the fighting has "disrupted the lives of 1 million Israelis living within the range of Gaza rockets." CBS does not report whether Palestinians living within the range of Israeli bombers have had their lives reported. Meanwhile ABC reports the news in somewhat backwards fashion, noting "200 Rockets Hit Israel, 23 Gazans Killed in Return." ABC suggests that Palestinians (or rather "Gazans") struck first, and that Israel only fired "in return." This claim is precisely the opposite of the true timeline, however.
In rhetoric that will warm the hearts of Israeli leaders and their supporters, Hillary Clinton has sharply condemned rocket fire from Gaza, while strongly supporting Israeli attacks into Gaza.
What is driving these attacks right now (since the Israeli story about a PRC attack from Egypt has zero credibility)? The larger trends are obvious; Israel seeks to stoke tension with Iran, but lacks the strength to attack Iran directly, therefore it attacks Iranian allies. Additionally, PM Netanyahu recently returned from the AIPAC conventio, with decidedly mixed results: all major American politicians attended AIPAC to expression unbridled support for Israel, and the Obama Administration sharpened its anti-Iran rhetoric, but Obama avoided making a specific pledge to attack Iran, leaving Netanyahu and Israel uncertain which way the US will go if Obama wins a second term (as appears more likely now than previously). Hence, Netanyahu needs to sharpen the conflict while the US is enmeshed in a presidential campaign. Finally, as Western intervention in Syria drifts slowly closer, and as Assad might consider launching rockets against Israel in such a case to unite Syrians and Arabs generally, Israel finds a demonstration of the cost of crossing it useful.
For the more immediate triggers, however, look to two recent statements by Israel and Hamas. One week before attacking the PRC, Israel announced it would conduct a general test of its missile defense system. While such an announcement did not precisely refer to this attack on the PRC, the practical effect is the same, as Israel attacks a single small faction of Palestinians, ensuring it will generate a steady flow of rockets that will test Israel systems without causing significant damage. This allows Israel to test its weapons systems under real combat conditions.
The second trigger was a recent statement by Hamas that it would not intervene in any Israel-Iran war. This fact is of no surprise to anyone who follows the region, since Hamas would have no incentive to join in a war (and give Israel an easy target) unless Israel were faring very poorly indeed. The statement itself is part of Hamas's overall trend of trying to make itself more "moderate" and acceptable to Western powers.
However, the logic for Hamas is not the logic for the smaller Palestinian factions. In the event of an Israel-Iran war, the smaller factions would have an incentive to attack and dare Israel to respond, thus risking bringing in Hamas in retaliation and adding to their difficulties. Further, by making such a pre-emptive announcement when no war is looming, Hamas signaled it will avoid conflict at all costs. Thus, Israel was effectively freed up to focus attacks on the smaller factions now with the guarantee that Hamas would not become involved and broaden the conflict beyond Israel's current desires.
The currently conflict is likely to continue a short while, but not expand, since Israel has no interest in a full scale war (having used up most of its anti-missile missiles, and with the PRC and Islamic Jihad leadership having gone to ground), the PRC and Islamic Jihad are unable to sustain the conflict at high intensity on their own, and Hamas is happy to sit this one out and show it can be the force that winds down the fighting.
Meanwhile, of course, people keep dying.