In a post today, Alex Kane asked the question, ‘Is another ‘Cast Lead’ in the offing?‘ I wanted to just add a couple of supplementary thoughts on the current “escalation” in Gaza.
Firstly, the AIC have published a useful article that includes a chronological summary of events in the last week or so:
On 16 March the Israeli air force attacked a Hamas training base near the former settlement of Netzarim. Two Hamas militants, Adana Eshtaiwi, 27 years old, and Ghassan Abu Amro, 25 years old, were killed in the attack, while a third person was injured.
While “the Israeli military claimed the strike was in response to a single mortar projectile launched from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel”, the AIC observes that “no Palestinian faction claimed responsibility for the firing, and the Israeli press reported that the projectile was launched by a small, unknown organization.”
This was a point reflected in a piece in Ha’aretz on 20 March. Avi Issacharoff and Amos Harel observed that the previous day’s mortar fire was presented by Hamas as a response to the IDF’s fatal strike against Hamas forces on 16 March, which in turn was said to have been “precipitated by a Qassam strike a few hours earlier”. Then the two analysts wrote:
Hamas said – and to a certain extent justifiably – that Israel had exceeded the unwritten rules of the game. The Qassam had been fired by a marginal Palestinian group, and the accepted response would have been a bombing of empty Hamas offices or an escape tunnel without casualties.
So as Alex pointed out, the parallels are there, particularly in terms of both establishing an atmosphere of ‘inevitability’ about an assault as well as provoking Hamas into a response to create the PR-friendly casus belli (as in 2008).
Secondly, some have suggested that Hamas’ mortar fire last week was designed to derail reconciliation efforts, or distract from March 15 protests. This is possible. However, it is also plausible that Netanyahu is seeking to stir up a ‘cycle of violence’ in Gaza/the south as a response to being pushed into a corner internationally, and facing numerous domestic political challenges.