There is no other possible interpretation. The postponement of the voyage of the Egyptian intelligence chief, Kamel Abbas, who had been expected Thursday in Gaza, indicates that an Israeli offensive in the Strip is imminent. The only uncertainty is when.
Some expected it last night, after evening came with tension and fear running high in Gaza and the surrounding areas. The over 2,000 dead during the last offensive in 2014 are still vivid in everyone’s memory. The Netanyahu government’s retaliation, in the form of a dozen air strikes that killed one and wounded three Palestinians, in response to the launch of a medium range Katyusha rocket on Tuesday night which hit and partly destroyed a house in Beersheba where a mother and her three children were lucky to escape serious harm, is being deemed insufficient by the Israeli public.
The Israelis are demanding a forceful action and a devastating blow. They don’t seem to care that the tension and the demonstrations along the border lines with Gaza are the inevitable result of an untenable situation, from both a humanitarian and a political point of view, for two million Palestinians who live as prisoners in less than 400 square kilometers of land that has been under an embargo for over 10 years.
With the elections looming ever closer on the horizon, no Israeli politician wants to appear weak on the issue of the Palestinians and on security. Even less so when Minister of Defense Lieberman, one of the most fearsome rivals to Prime Minister Netanyahu, called for a “harsh blow” against the Hamas Islamic movement that controls Gaza, which he says is the only way to restore calm.
This is why the Prime Minister stressed that “Israel will act with great force” during his visit Wednesday to areas close to Gaza: “Israel views with great severity the attacks on it along the fence, on the Gaza perimeter, on Beersheba, everywhere. … If these attacks don’t stop, we will stop them.” Then, during the late afternoon, Netanyahu presided over a Defense Council meeting as messages of solidarity with Israel and condemnation of the Palestinian rocket launch arrived from the EU and from the UN envoy, Nikolay Mladenov.
However, Hamas also wants a war at this point, despite the statement issued together with Islamic Jihad in which they indirectly condemned the launch of the rocket aimed at Beersheba.
A journalist from Gaza with connections to the leadership of the Islamic movement told us that there is no mystery about who launched the Katyusha. “We must take into account the state the leaders of Hamas are in,” he explained. “They have sought a long-term ceasefire agreement with Israel, they have pursued this goal all summer without success. They have stepped up the popular protests at the border to put more pressure on the Israel side, again without success, while many protesters were killed.”
Now, he added, the leaders of Hamas have convinced themselves that only a new military escalation can bring Netanyahu to accept a comprehensive agreement that would put an end to the Israeli blockade, or at least lighten its terms, because “a major conflict could lead to positive developments during periods of ceasefire.”
According to the Gaza journalist, “Hamas has not claimed responsibility for the attack in Beersheba, but that rocket, more powerful than the usual ones, came from the arsenal of its armed wing, not from the stockpiles of smaller organizations. Hitting Beersheba was a show of strength and a clear message to the Israelis: if you don’t want a ceasefire, then we will have a war, and you will suffer too.”
In the background of all this are also the maneuvers by the Palestinian National Authority. President Mahmoud Abbas is openly opposed to a separate ceasefire agreement between Hamas and Israel. In recent months, he has done everything he could to prevent it, to the point of declaring UN’s Mladenov persona non grata because he engaged in mediation activities together with Egypt. The negotiations have completely excluded the Palestinian Authority, and its president sees them as a thinly-veiled attempt to split Gaza off from the West Bank forever, in line with the speculative provisions of the US peace plan that has not yet been made public (the mediator from the US side, Jason Greenblatt, denies that the American initiative aims to separate the Palestinian territories).
In order to strike at Hamas, over the past year and a half Abbas has not hesitated to cut the salaries of civil servants, to impose sanctions and to implement forms of economic boycott that have only made life more difficult for the Palestinian civilian population, while failing to make a dent in the power of his Islamist rivals.
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