Olmert and Peretz have Failed the Test of Power

Patrick Seale sees the over-reaction of the Israeli military in the Gaza (and the tepid response from the West) leading to further rage in the Arab world, continuing violence and greater suffering of the innocent.


By using vastly disproportionate force against Gaza, Israel has once again demonstrated its contempt for international law and its cruel indifference to human suffering. America’s blind support may give Israel immunity in the short term, but the longer term consequences of such irresponsible behaviour can only be dire.


Arab and Muslim loathing for the Jewish state — and for its American ally — will inevitably be cranked up still further, with everything this implies for the security of Israelis and Americans everywhere. There will always be Palestinians and others who will seek revenge, in one form or another, including a resort to terrorism.


Political pressures on Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian territories, even from the spineless Europeans, will steadily increase. Alarmed at American inaction, Britain and France are already working quietly on a project to define their own parameters for resolving the conflict. They will not endorse the unilateral annexations Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has in mind.


When he travels abroad, Israel’s chief of staff Dan Halutz may find that he has joined the list of Israeli generals wanted for war crimes.


Even more serious, because more insidious and less easily quantifiable, is that Israel’s wanton violence, such as the world has witnessed in recent months — the pitiless siege of a captive population, the shelling and killing of innocent civilians, the collective punishments, the boycott of a democratically-elected government — squanders the “moral capital” of the Holocaust on which Israel has lived for so long, leading inevitably not only to anti-Zionism but also to virulent anti-Semitism.


Two Israeli crimes, in particular, qualify as state terrorism — the destruction last week of Gaza’s $150m power station, which has deprived 750,000 Palestinians of electricity in the scorching summer heat, and the kidnapping on the West Bank of 64 members of the political wing of Hamas, including eight cabinet ministers and 22 members of the Palestinian legislature.


Referring to the democratically-elected Hamas government, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer declared, “No one has immunity. This is not a government. It is a murderous organization.” This judgement might more accurately describe Israel’s own government.


Why have Olmert and Amir Peretz, his hapless defence minister, gone down this road to nowhere? Some observers have suggested that they may want to show that they are as good at killing Arabs as their predecessors because, unlike previous Israeli leaders, they lack any significant military experience. But this can be only part of the story.


It would seem that there are two broad reasons for Israel’s destructive rampage in Gaza (which includes not just the current air, land and sea operations, but also the heavy shelling and air strikes of recent weeks.) Neither reason has much to do with the young Franco-Israeli corporal, Gilad Shalit, captured a few days ago during a daring cross-border operation by Palestinian guerrillas against an Israeli military post in which two Israeli soldiers were killed and a number of armoured vehicles damaged.


Shalit’s captors offered to exchange him for the 400 children and 200 women — out of some 9,000 Palestinians — held in Israeli jails, but Olmert has refused any such negotiation.


A first reason for Israel’s assault is military. Israel has been desperate to put an end to the home-made Qassam rockets launched from northern Gaza at the Israeli town of Sderot, which lies a kilometre from the Gaza strip in the north-west Negev desert. Sderot is Peretz’s home town.


These rockets have so far not killed anyone but they are a very considerable irritant. The city’s municipality is up in arms at the state’s inability to offer adequate protection. In response to the rockets, Israeli shelling and air strikes have in recent months killed some 50 Palestinians, including several children, and wounded over 200.


But beyond the rockets themselves is the wider issue of Israel’s deterrent capability. Nothing inflames Israel more than any dent in this capability. It wants the freedom to hit its neighbours, while denying them the ability to hit back. Mutual deterrence is ruled out with cries of indignation. Israel’s security is sacrosanct, even — and particularly — at the cost of the insecurity of everyone else. This past week the United States has, as usual, repeated its mantra that “Israel has the right to defend itself.” The implicit corollary is that no one else has such a right.


Israel’s second reason for striking at Gaza is political. It is seeking to destroy the Hamas government by all possible means — including physical liquidation — because it knows that Hamas’ terms for a settlement would be stiffer than it could possibly accept.


It abhors the recent Hamas-Fatah accord, which implicitly recognises Israel, because it threatens to produce a Palestinian partner ready to negotiate the creation of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. Israel has no intention of ever returning to those borders. It is no accident that its latest assault followed immediately on the Palestinian accord.


Israel will do everything to avoid a negotiation. Hence, it deliberately inflicts inhumane hardships on the Palestinians in order to radicalise them and drive the moderates from the scene.


Moderates, who are prepared to talk, are Israel’s real enemies.



Patrick Seale is a leading British writer on the Middle East, and the author of The Struggle for Syria; also, Asad of Syria: The Struggle for the Middle East; and Abu Nidal: A Gun for Hire.



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