The ferocity of the Israeli response to continuous rocket fire into its territory from Gaza was designed to send Hamas and, indeed, the world a message.
The question, of course, is what that message may be, especially given that the scale of the campaign, which could last for months, is quite obviously disproportionate to the scale of threat endured by the Israelis.
The Palestinian death toll topped 300 as of Monday, with unconfirmed estimates that civilian casualties totaled as much as a third of the dead.
The Gaza Strip is a terrifically poor area, with decrepit infrastructure, a great deal of lawlessness and a lack of adequate health care. So the airstrikes will cause an incalculable amount of suffering, and there’s little chance the area will rebound quickly once the bombardment is over.
It is no doubt maddening that Israel has had to deal with constant attacks with crude Qassam rockets fired from Hamas-controlled territory. “The Qassams that rained down on the communities near Gaza turned intolerable, even though they did not sow death,” explained Israeli columnist Gideon Levy, writing in the newspaper Haaretz. “But the response to them needs to be fundamentally different: diplomatic efforts to restore the cease-fire … and then, if those efforts fail, a measured, gradual military response. But no. It’s all or nothing.”
There’s no downplaying ongoing foolishness by Hamas, which chose to let a cease-fire come to an end and has persisted in these futile rocket attacks. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, of the more moderate and rival Fatah movement, has told Hamas that it has only itself to blame for the brutal attacks.
But still, why the all-or-nothing response?
A New York Times analysis argues that Israel “worries that its enemies are less afraid of it than they once were, or should be. Israeli leaders are calculating that a display of power in Gaza could fix that.”
Libertarian columnist Justin Raimondo, writing for antiwar.com, sees politics playing the central role in this decision. In Israel, he writes, the current government is enormously unpopular, and polls for the coming election show a push among the electorate toward the right. But the other concern is the effect on American politics. For instance, as Raimondo notes, Barack Obama has had nothing much to say about this new war, as his advisers explain there’s only one president at a time. That’s a bit much to take given the president-elect has had a great deal to say about many subjects, and has often eclipsed the words of our lame-duck president.
Raimondo believes the Israelis are sending this message to the incoming administration: “The whole point of this exercise in futility — which will not create a single iota of security for Israel, will not topple Hamas, and will not prove any more successful than the second Lebanese war — is to set the terms by which the Israelis will deal with the incoming U.S. president.” The Bush administration immediately backed the Israeli action, which only reinforced the political aspects of this incursion.
Our conclusion is the U.S. government needs to significantly reduce its role in the region and its taxpayer-backed foreign aid to all parties. Perhaps then Palestinians and Israelis will look mainly to themselves rather than to Washington, D.C., to resolve their lingering issues. And, as an aside to those who believe that an American reduction in involvement would endanger Israel, these latest Israeli attacks on Hamas show that the Israeli government is more than capable of taking care of itself.