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Gaza strike will ultimately change nothing

Ben Lynfield
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Published: 12 May 2023

Last updated: 5 March 2024

Israeli and Palestinian analysts agree the current operation in Gaza will not change the trajectory of the conflict, reports BEN LYNFIELD.

The killing this week of Islamic Jihad commanders responsible for attacks on Israel may look like a security coup for Israel.

But it is questionable whether the dramatic raids, which also killed more than 10 Palestinian civilians, will have any lasting effect.

“One thing is certain, a ceasefire with Islamic Jihad in Gaza won’t last long,” said Yossi Alpher, a veteran strategic analyst who writes a column for American Friends of Peace Now. “Israel has struck a significant strategic blow and achieved deterrence. For how long? Only time will tell.”

"Leaders are replaceable and as long as the same roots [of conflict] are there, the motivation will remain."

Palestinian analyst Ghassan Khatib

We have seen this before. Operation Breaking Dawn, the military campaign waged by Yair Lapid’s government eight months, failed to produce a protracted respite. It is likely that Israel and Gaza will continue in a dynamic of episodic eruptions fuelled by militarism on the Israeli side and Islamic fundamentalism wedded to the idea of destroying Israel on Islamic Jihad’s side.

Ghassan Khatib, former Palestinian Authority minister of labour and a professor at Birzeit University on the West Bank, says Israel’s outlook and Iranian backing for Islamic Jihad pave the way for repeated confrontations. “Assassinations have never succeeded in limiting the ability of the Palestinian side to keep fighting. Leaders are replaceable and as long as the same roots [of conflict] are there, the motivation will remain,” he said.

As Khatib spoke, Islamic Jihad rockets were striking Ashkelon and Sderot in more close calls for Israelis, who have thus far suffered no significant injuries, and the Israeli air force was pummelling what the army said were sites used by Islamic Jihad for rocket launches.

It was unclear if ceasefire talks would soon bear fruit and Khatib, speaking from Ramallah, left open the possibility that this could still escalate and draw in Hamas, the ruling movement in Gaza, and even Hezbollah in Lebanon.

What seemed certain, however was that civilians on both sides were the ones paying the highest price as the war room decision-makers weighed their next moves.

This week’s military push, known as Operation Arrow and Shield, bore a strong resemblance to Operation Breaking Dawn last August. It also started out with satisfaction after assassinations of Islamic Jihad leaders but in hindsight solved nothing, while raising troubling questions about civilian casualties.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that this time “Islamic Jihad suffered the most severe blow in its history.”

But some Israelis were not convinced. Channel Twelve anchor Yonit Levy emphasised the similarities to the previous round as she pressed Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich during an interview. “What’s the difference? It’s almost the same operation,” she said.

Meanwhile, Islamic Jihad was wreaking psychological damage. Haaretz reported that the mental health organisationEran had experienced a 40% jump in the number of people seeking help as a result of distress related to Operation Arrow and Shield.

To supporters of the Israeli military action, the simultaneous killing of the three Islamic Jihad commanders was necessary to put Islamic Jihad in place after the group fired about a hundred rockets last week following the death in an Israeli prison of hunger-striking Islamic Jihad West Bank political figure Khader Adnan.

Last week’s burst of rockets ended with no fatalities or injuries and Israel mounted retaliatory airstrikes that also caused no casualties.

But Israel clearly felt the need for a more powerful response.

By barraging Israel after Adnan’s death, “Islamic Jihad was trying to change the rules of the game such that it can fire rockets at Israel when Israel acts to thwart a terror operation from Judea and Samaria,” Shaul Shay, former deputy head of Israel’s national security council told The Jewish Independent.  

“A lack of response would have shown weakness and surrender to Islamic Jihad’s changing the rules of the game,” Shay said.

It was important to kill the three Islamic Jihad leaders at the same time so none of them could go into hiding and to minimise casualties among non-combatants, he said.

However, Israel does not seem to have improved its military’s practices when it comes to Palestinian lives. Like many Israeli leaders, officials and pundits who used similar terms, Shay described the airstrikes as “surgical” and “optimal” despite the fact that the raids killed four children, five women and another civilian. Twenty other Palestinians were wounded, including three children and seven women. More civilian casualties have occurred in the subsequent fighting.

“We’re sorry about every casualty of those who are not involved but on the other hand there is no choice when heads of terror hide among the civilian population. We can’t give them immunity,” Shay said.

Demonstrators at a protest that drew about two hundred people in Jerusalem’s Paris Square on Wednesday night saw things differently. One protester read out the names of the fatalities. To the sound of a drumbeat, those gathered chanted: “Democracy is not built on the corpses of children.”

“This war came out of nowhere,” said political activist Natasha Dudinski. “There was a ceasefire. There was no reason to start it. We want to show there are still people who are against this pointless bloodshed.”

Leslie Susser, former diplomatic editor of the Jerusalem Report magazine, said that any Israeli government would have decided to respond to the Islamic Jihad barrage. But, he added, Netanyahu clearly hopes an outcome perceived as successful will shore up his political standing.

Susser predicted that by projecting himself in a leadership role, Netanyahu could make some short-term gains. But the military operation won’t quell opposition to his plan to weaken the judiciary. “This won’t stop opposition to the coup. People are fighting for their future to live in a democratic country. They won’t let a successful operation in Gaza deflect them.”

In Susser’s view, Israelis and Palestinians appear doomed to further battles across the Gaza border that could at some point draw in Hamas and Hezbollah and escalate into a regional war. “Until Israel takes the bull by the horns and makes some permanent agreements with Hamas in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank the conflict will simmer and erupt sometimes.

“There is always a danger one round will get out of control and turn into a regional conflict devastating for all.”


As Israel-Gaza truce simmers, next flash point awaits (Amos Harel, Haaretz)
By refraining from a major conflagration with Hamas, Israel hands the group time and money to invest in building its military force.

With Gaza assault, Netanyahu caves in to far-Right Ben-Gvir and his gang (Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz)
The "old" risk-averse Netanyahu would never have made targeted assassinations his opening play in conflicts with Gaza militants. Now, though, he's under pressure from the most radical and irresponsible political partners he's ever had, and that could trigger weeks of warfare.

Operation Shield and Arrow: Netanyahu's hidden political message (Herb Keinon, Jerusalem Post)
Though secondary, there is a domestic political message in how Netanyahu launched Operation Shield and Arrow.

Photo: Palestinians mourn Mohammed Abu Taima, one of the civilians killed in an Israeli airstrike in Khan Younis, in the Gaza Strip, on Wednesday (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)

About the author

Ben Lynfield

Ben Lynfield covered Israeli and Palestinian politics for The Independent and served as Middle Eastern affairs correspondent at the Jerusalem Post. He writes for publications in the region and has contributed to the Christian Science Monitor, Foreign Policy and the New Statesman.

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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