Dangerous escalation

[3/13/2012 12:00:00 AM]

By Hassan A. Barari

Israel’s strike in Gaza on Friday, which killed the leader of the Popular Resistance Committees and sparked cross-border exchanges broke months of relative tranquility.

The unexpected flare-up of violent clashes began when Israeli air-to-ground missiles killed Zuhair Al Qaisi of the PRC and his assistant in Gaza. Israel justified its attack by saying that the strike was designed to frustrate a terrorist attack that the group was planning against Israelis from across the border with Egypt.

The sudden violent escalation sparked a fresh wave of mutual attacks across the volatile Gaza-Israel border.

The Israeli attacks on Gaza came amid public debates within and without Israel regarding an often-talked-about Israeli strike on Iran.

Away from the Israeli security argument that Israel should preempt any violent attack by its opponents, one ponders what is Israel’s interest in triggering a new wave of violent clashes.

Zvi Bar’el wrote in the Israeli daily Haaretz that “Hamas’ continued preference for diplomatic action in the face of Israel’s attacks on Gaza is less than convenient for those who desire an Israeli strike on Iran”.

Those who keep beating the drums of war on Iran need military clashes to remind the Israelis that their lives will be seriously threatened by a nuclear Iran. Diplomacy will not work for the case of war with Iran.

The world is preoccupied with Syria and Iran seems intent on going nuclear regardless of the price tag imposed by the international community. Therefore, continuing this line of thinking, it is more prudent to attack Iran now rather than later.

The current escalation was planned by Israel. In an article published by Yedioth Ahronoth, Alex Fishman says that the escalation was well-prepared by the Israeli army who set an ambush to trigger this round of violence. It was obvious that the southern command was preparing during the last weeks for such an attack.

Evidence suggests that this escalation is not going to be short-lived. Top Israeli leaders warned that it is poised to last for some time. Just two days ago, Defence Minister Ehud Barak warned that “the current escalation is liable to be lengthy”.

The timing of the attacks on Gaza cannot be more striking. Hamas, who is in charge of the strip, suffers from internal struggle and differences due to regional events. It has been repositioning itself after leaving Syria, and is looking for allies. The regional environment requires moderation on the part of Hamas leaders, a trend that was recently noticed.

Hamas is interested in averting any escalation with Israel. Tel Aviv, on the other hand, fears moderation on the part of Hamas. Some Israelis think that Hamas should be dragged into clashes to reverse the trend of moderation.

The dangerous escalation on the part of the Israeli army can reverse this trend, thereby creating more problems for the Palestinian leadership. Perhaps, this is the main objective of the sudden flare-up in clashes.

It remains to be seen how the current events will play out with regard to Palestinian reconciliation. Israel is focusing on drawing the international attention to the threat of a nuclear Iran, and Tel Aviv cannot afford any Palestinian moderation that may entail a similar Israeli response.

* Jordan Times

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