Netanyahu’s Game in Gaza: Same Time, Same Place

Many key phrases have been presented to explain Israel’s latest military onslaught against Gaza, which left scores dead and wounded. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is flexing his muscles in preparation for the Israeli general elections in January, suggested some. It is Israel’s way of testing the Administration of Egyptian President Mahmoud Morsi, commented others. It was a stern message to Iran, instructed a few. Or Israel is simply assessing its deterrence capabilities. And so on.


But there is more to the story than those ready-to-serve analyses. It has been four years since Israel mixed up the cards through an unhindered show of force. Last time it did so was in 2008-09, in a 22-day war it termed Operation Cast Lead. Then, it killed over 1,400 Palestinians and wounded over 5,000 others. Excluding Israel’s diehard supporters, the general consensus—including that of many UN and international rights organizations—was that Israel committed war crimes and crimes against humanity deserving of international tribunals and due retribution.


Of course, none took place. The U.S. government and media stood as an impenetrable shield between Israel’s accused war criminals and those daring to level accusations. Four years later little has changed. Then, as now, Israel was embarking on national elections and, since “security” is Israel’s enduring strategy—whether in national or international politics—it was suddenly realized that Gaza posed a security threat and had to be suppressed, or at least taught a lesson. Never mind that a truce was in effect and was mostly holding up and that it was Israel that provoked Palestinian factions to retaliate—before the retaliation was itself considered the original act of aggression as willfully validated by mainstream western media.


In 2008, Barack Obama was elected president and the outgoing George W. Bush administration remained largely “uninvolved,” save for the reiteration of Israel’s right to defend itself against hordes of Palestinian terrorists and such. Some, then, suggested that Cast Lead was an Israeli trial balloon to test Obama, whom Israel viewed with much suspicion despite all the groveling he has done at Israeli lobby meetings to assure Israel that he will not demand their accountability. Obama eventually lived up to Israel’s expectations and, despite a few hiccups in their relations, the new Administration was hardly different from its predecessors. Under Obama, Israel remained a top priority for American diplomacy, politics, military, and financial aid and more. However, Israel was still dissatisfied.


Political analysts cite a few incidents that made Netanyahu look unfavorably at Obama from the onset. The latter ushered in his foreign policy with the appointment of a Middle East peace envoy, and expected Israel to work towards the resumption of the so-called peace process. More dangerously, however, Obama spoke bluntly for the need to freeze settlement construction as a necessary first step before returning to the negotiation table. Even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton—who understands the importance of Israeli support for any ambitious U.S. politician—was clear regarding the settlements: President Obama, she said, “wants to see a stop to settlements—not some settlements, not outposts, not natural-growth exceptions.”


Gradually that position weakened, if not entirely reversed. Over the following months and years, the Obama administration retreated to the U.S. foreign policy comfort zone regarding Israel—give generously (even in times of economic recession), expect nothing in return, and, in the meantime, ask no questions. But it takes more to placate an ever-demanding government like Netanyahu’s.


The Israeli prime minister was troubled by fears that his palpable support of the Republican candidate Mitt Romney and his trademark arrogance and lecturing of Obama regarding Iran, could prove costly during Obama’s new term. Not that Obama is likely to be any less enthusiastic about supporting Israel, but the Israeli government was concerned that the U.S. administration might not adopt Israeli foreign policy priorities.


Hours after Obama was declared a winner, the Israeli media began censuring the injudiciousness of their prime minister. Articles with such titles as “So Sorry, President Obama, Please Forgive Netanyahu,”(Haaretz) and “Bibi Gambled, We’ll Pay,” (Yedioth Ahronoth) became commonplace. Romney’s defeat was particularly sobering for Israel since it was the first time that the power of the Zionist lobby and the endless millions of their patrons—such as multibillionaire gambling magnate Sheldon Adelson—were rarely as useful in determining election results of this scale.


Truth be told, Obama is not only unpopular among Israeli political elites, but by the Israeli public as well. “In global polls, Israel is the only country in the world that would have elected Romney over Obama,” said ABC—and with a huge margin, too.


It was early morning on Wednesday, November 7 in Israel and the occupied territories when the U.S. election results were declared. The Israeli cabinet swung into action and the Israeli army was quickly deployed to seek provocations at the Gaza border. An earlier incident on November 5, where an apparently mentally unfit man, Ahmad al-Nabaheen, was shot dead by Israeli troops, heightened tensions, although a truce remained in effect. On November 8, Israel moved into Gaza with tanks and helicopters.


An early victim was a 12-year-old boy gunned down while playing soccer. Palestinians retaliated, although projectiles inside Israel caused no damage. One Israeli soldier was injured near the border with Gaza and more firing was reported by Palestinian fighters aimed at an Israeli military jeep, injuring four. Two more children were killed in an open soccer field on November 10, prompting more—although still guarded—Palestinian retaliation. Another civilian in Gaza was killed the following day when Israel bombed the funeral tent set up to mourn the victims of past days.


On November 12, Egypt was concluding yet another truce between Israel and resistance factions. But that turned out to be a diplomatic embarrassment for Egypt, as the man who agreed to the text of the truce on the Palestinian side—the leader of the Hamas armed resistance in Gaza, Ahmed Jabari—was assassinated by an Israeli missile on November 14. No other meaning can be extracted from Jabari’s murder, but the fact that Israel had decided to pull the Palestinians into an all-out war. Scores of Palestinians, many of them civilians, were killed in the subsequent days. Palestinians extended the range of their projectiles into areas near Tel Aviv and as far as Jerusalem. Three Israelis were reportedly killed.


Israel’s obsession with security often, if not always, leads it to create the very conditions that compromise its security, so that its leaders may demonstrate the authenticity of their original claim. It is a strange logic that is as old as the state of Israel. But the timing of the latest war on Gaza, as in the previous one, is partly meant to push the subject of Israel’s security to the top of the agenda, rife with crises and challenges. No U.S. administration risks beginning its term in office with an open confrontation with Israel. The conventional wisdom in Washington is that in times of war, Israel is right even if it’s wrong, as it often is.


“We strongly condemn the barrage of rocket fire from Gaza into Israel,” said Jay Carney, the White House spokesperson. “There is no justification for the violence that Hamas and other terrorist organizations are employing against the people of Israel.”


Now that Israel is once more pushing its agenda as an American priority, the time is ripe for further escalation and for more saber-rattling against Iran, Hezbollah, and whomever else Israel perceives as an enemy. Israeli causalities will be used to demonstrate Israel’s supposed vulnerability and Palestinian deaths will buttress Netanyahu’s right-wing government as Israel’s unbending guardian against those who continue to pose an “existential threat” to the Jewish state. The truth, of course, remains the least relevant. 



Ramzy Baroud ( is an internationally syndicated columnist and the editor of His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story.