Is Israel’s attack on Gaza really a response to Hamas aggression?
“Hamas is responsible” claimed Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, almost as soon as the kidnapping of 3 Israelis happened near Hebron, in the West Bank. He launched a massive assault on Hamas members in the West Bank which is under full Israeli military control. Over 500 were arrested. He also authorized the assassination of a top Hamas official in Gaza.
But did really Hamas do it? Only eight weeks before, on April 23rd, Fatah and Hamas had finally forged a unity government. After seven years of division, Palestinians were about to be united facing Israel. Elections were planned to be held within six months. Murdering Israeli settlers would not seem to be a helpful strategy toward international recognition and electoral success.
A reader asks: Is Israel’s attack on Gaza really in retribution for aggression by Hamas?
I received a number of thoughtful and critical responses to my speech at the July 12th demonstration against the Israeli bombing of Gaza. One respondent challenged my assertion that Israel had attacked Gaza for the 4th time in 10 years because the Gazans won’t give up their dream of returning to their homeland.
Thanks for your recent message. You certainly have a talent for explaining complex situations succinctly and clearly. However, (…) it is my understanding that Israel is attacking Gaza not simply because Palestinians won’t give up their dream of returning to their homeland, but because they are retaliating for the recent killings of Jews by militant Palestinians – and that, you don’t mention. I’m not suggesting that this is fair retaliation, but that it is an important motive behind their attacks.
(signed) Frank B.
Here is my answer:
Thanks for your thoughtful note.
Before I try to back up my statement, I would like to make it perfectly clear that I do not support attacks on civilians by anyone. The rockets fired by Hamas on Israel are war crimes just as much as are the bombings by Israel on Gaza. The fact that the Hamas rockets have been ineffective and no Israeli has been killed (as of today) does not change this. Of course, they pale in extent to the war crimes committed by Israel, but that still does not justify them.
I don’t know who killed those 3 Israeli teenagers in the West Bank. However, what is clear is that Prime Minister Netanyahu almost immediately blamed the kidnapping (and subsequent deaths) on Hamas. Based on the circumstantial evidence below I think it seems highly unlikely that Hamas was responsible, and as a result I do not believe his attack on Gaza was solely (or even principally) a “response” to that kidnap/murder.
I offer four lines of “circumstantial’ evidence to support my conclusion.
1. Hamas had just signed a unity deal with Fatah and was about to run candidates in an election in which it would very likely have made some progress in the West Bank
In April, after the failed peace deal, Fatah signed an agreement with Hamas (which had not fired a rocket on Israel in 2 years) to form a unity government. Preparations were being made for an election which would be held under international supervision. Kidnapping, let alone murdering, 3 Israelis makes little sense when Hamas had so much to gain from the elections.
2. Hamas denied it had a role in the kidnapping/murder.
Hamas did not claim responsibility (as it had in the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier exchanged for Palestinian political prisoners 3 years ago) but it refused to condemn the act. Later statements by Hamas denying involvement were ignored by Israel but confirmed by a number of sources, as noted by the Citizen’s William Marsden.
3. US intelligence sources doubt it was the work of Hamas
The US geopolitical analysts of Austin Texas-based Stratfor commented that the kidnapping/murders appeared to be the work of amateurs, not that of organized groups like Hamas.
4. How subsequent events unfolded.
It now seems clear that the Israeli military knew almost immediately that the 3 youths were dead. However, for the next 3 weeks it maintained the pretense that they were on a “rescue” mission aimed at saving them. It used this period to arrest many Palestinian militants in the West Bank, including almost all the Hamas supporters who might have been candidates in the proposed election. Many of them had just been released from Israeli jails in the prisoner swap negotiated during the “peace process”. At least 5 Palestinians were killed in the operation.
When the Israeli government announced on June 30thth that it had found the bodies of the murdered kids, Netanyahu vowed that “Hamas would pay”, though he still did not offer any proof of Hamas involvement. Israel then launched a few air strikes against Hamas in Gaza, assassinating one of the Hamas leaders. That is when Hamas started to retaliate with its own rockets fired onto Israel.
A likely scenario…
Netanyahu had made it abundantly clear that he wanted to break the Palestinian unity government. The June 12 kidnapping of the 3 Israeli youth, gave him a golden opportunity to smash the unity government by again branding Hamas as murderers and terrorists.
Hamas’ initial response, refusing to distance itself from the act, and even appearing to defend it, made this all the more believable.
Is it possible, as some have suggested, that one of the Israeli special services was behind the kidnapping/assassination? I doubt it. More likely Netanyahu was able to take quick advantage of the situation to move toward his objective of breaking the unity government. In this, he appears to have succeeded. Whether he succeeds in breaking Hamas however, is less clear.