On Wednesday, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman resigned. He was upset about what he perceived as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu being too soft on Hamas . First because the PM agreed to provide some cash and fuel to Gaza, and then, after a couple of days of bombing in Gaza, the PM accepted a ceasefire.
Israeli Defense Ministers normally get a turn at conducting large-scale massacres in Gaza– “killing lots of Arabs” as Education Minister Bennett would say, killing those “little snakes”, as Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked would say. Even ‘left’ hero Ehud Barak had a go at Gaza twice when he was Defense minister between 2007 and 2013. And of course the ‘moderate’ Likudnik Moshe Yaalon got his massacre as Defense Minister in 2014, which was 1-1/2 times the size of Barak’s.
So Avigdor Lieberman, who is more rhetorically bellicose than Barak or Yaalon, was denied his. And just when time seemed ripe for another ‘mowing of the lawn’ in Gaza, as they say in Israel.
Gearing up towards another massacre
Everything seemed geared up for another large-scale massacre. The Israeli commando invasion of Gaza territory on Sunday (territory which Israel claims it doesn’t occupy but which basically the rest of the world knows it does), in which seven Palestinian militants (including a senior commander) as well as a senior Israeli commander were killed, was a perfect pretext for another major Israeli seasonal onslaught. The commando operation came at a time of extraordinary lull: Netanyahu had just permitted cash and fuel to flow into Gaza, to alleviate some unbearable tensions, and he was in Paris saying that “We want to prevent a humanitarian collapse in Gaza, and that’s what we’re doing.” He assured the world he was “doing everything [he] can to prevent an unnecessary war.”
And then that Israeli operation. On the face of it, irrational, right? But actually, it follows a pattern. As Noam Chomsky observed in the wake of the 2014 onslaught:
“Since November 2005 the terms of these agreements have remained essentially the same. The regular pattern is for Israel to disregard whatever agreement is in place, while Hamas observes it — as Israel has conceded — until a sharp increase in Israeli violence elicits a Hamas response, followed by even fiercer brutality.”
Former Chief of Southern Command Maj. Gen. Tal Rousso made statements seeking to tone down the notion that this was a deliberate assassination attempt against the Hamas battalion commander Nour Baraka, saying:
“These are operations that take place all the time, every night, in all divisions. This is an operation that was probably uncovered. Not an assassination attempt. We have other ways to assassinate.”
“Probably”. Maybe. Maybe not. The possibility of an assassination operation on Baraka would not have been less logical (in the weird Israeli logic) than, say, the assassination of chief Hamas negotiator Ahmad Al-Jabari on November 14, 2012, just hours after Al-Jabari had received the draft of a permanent truce agreement with Israel. Al-Jabari was interested in a long-term ceasefire with Israel, and his killing was the immediate lead-up to the 2012 “Pillar of Defense” onslaught (called “Pillar of Cloud” in Hebrew), under Barak as Defense Minister.
Israel broke a 2008 ceasefire (which then had lasted 4 months) by invading Gaza territory and killing six Palestinian militants. That was the lead-up to the “Cast Lead” onslaught, under Barak, that killed 1400 Palestinians.
In any case, this is just what Israel does “all the time”, per Rousso.
What then ensues in such cases is just the same old story. The Palestinians respond with projectiles, and Israel bombs.
But this time, Israel bombed in a ‘special’ way. A senior Israeli Air Force officer cited in Haaretz said that the targets this time were “completely different from anything we’ve known in the past”. These were high-rise buildings in city centers.
According to the officer, such targets were only struck twice during the entire campaign of Operation Protective Edge in 2014. “Just tonight, we’ve hit four [of these] targets,” he said.
The officer bragged about being able to do this without killing anyone: “We’ve learned how to attack these targets at the heart of residential neighborhoods and obliterate them without killing anyone in the strike. We uphold our values, we’re not fighting against civilians”, he said.
What a success. Once again, Israel managed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population (quoting the UN 2009 fact-finding mission report on the 2008-9 onslaught), but this time, it used those couple of days including strikes in 160 sites, including TV stations, residential buildings and kindergartens – to show how moral it is, because it managed to not kill anyone (except of course those seven Palestinians in Gaza to begin with, but who’s counting?).
Surely, this is a great PR for Israel and “the best” – its pilots. They are the most moral of the most moral. This is certainly better PR than what former Israeli Air Force commander Dan Halutz had said, when asked what he feels when bombing Palestinians with expected civilian casualties: “I feel a light bump to the aircraft due to the bomb’s release, and a second later, it’s over.” It’s also better PR than what the ‘liberal’ Maj. General (res.) Amiram Levin said: “most of these people are born to die anyway, we just need to help them to it”.
Israel reserves its freedom to violate the ceasefire
In the wake of the ceasefire falling in place Tuesday, the Palestinian factions in Gaza released a joint statement saying that “a cease-fire has been reached and we have responded to Egyptian efforts on this matter”, adding that they were “committed to the cease-fire as long as Israel doesn’t break it and doesn’t attack the Palestinian people.” Hamas added that it “really appreciates efforts alongside different entities to obtain a cease-fire and we thank and cherish the Egyptian effort and the international effort, as well as the role the Norwegians and Qataris played.”
An Israeli official cited by Haaretz, on the other hand, said that “Israel reserves its freedom to operate.”
In other words – the pattern is unchanged. Israel reserves its right to conduct invasions “all the time, every night, in all divisions”, as Tal Rousso said. It’s all about not getting caught. To be sure, if Hamas were so openly to reserve its right to invade Israeli territory say, through tunnels, and conduct such operations (and let It be noted here that Hamas has in fact historically always used those tunnels solely for military engagement), well, we would not hear the end of it. This would be a promise to continue active “terror”.
Lieberman upset with easing of tensions with Hamas and with ceasefire
But regardless of the precise terms of the agreement and Israel’s ambivalent position, this ceasefire is after all a ceasefire. And this really isn’t Lieberman’s style. Way too liberal. Lieberman is the type who suggests that Palestinians be decapitated with an axe, and that they be drowned by the thousands in the Dead Sea. Lieberman was already opposed to the deal Netanyahu had closed with Qatar, permitting $15 million in cash to be brought into Gaza, which Hamas was distributing to 27,000 civil servants and some 50,000 families defined as needy last Friday. Education Minister Naftali Bennett was already having a spat with Lieberman about this on Sunday morning, saying that the money is “protection money”, chiding Lieberman for not being tougher and failing to prevent it.
As Israel’s ‘clinical’ onslaught was taking place, Lieberman was being chided by his own, and also from his left, for not being tougher. Sharon Gal, who was a lawmaker with Lieberman’s far-right Yisrael Beiteinu party at the beginning of the current term of parliament, said that Lieberman had gone from being “Rambo” to being a “toy Rambo”, to being a “Zero”:
“If you are a group of wimps unable to make decisions, go home. For weeks and weeks here you spoke like Rambo, you threatened several and definitive attacks from every podium”,
Gal told listeners of his radio show on Galey Israel.
“And in the end, children in the south go to sleep and wet their beds at night. Why should Jewish children have to go to sleep in fear? The defence minister, that toy Rambo, is silent. I was a member of his party, and this morning I am ashamed of it, I am ashamed that I was a lawmaker of that party. This is a defense minister that does nothing but talk. You are an absolute zero.”
‘Liberal centrist’ lawmaker Yair Lapid opined that Lieberman and Netanyahu were showing weakness in the wrong place:
“In the Middle East, they only understand strength, and we are not utilising it. If I am prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh is as good as dead,”
Lapid said, referring to the Hamas political leader, adding:
“We must return to targeted assassinations. Hamas must know that they are as good as dead.”
This was really all too much for Lieberman. He really wasn’t in the mood for a ceasefire. He was in the Azarya mood. And by that, I mean what Elor Azarya, the Israeli sergeant who executed a Palestinian lying incapacited on the ground in 2016, and his family were saying on social media in 2014, in the wake of a July ceasefire:
Elor Azarya: Bibi you transvestite what ceasefire? Penetrate their mother!!!
(23 likes including Adir Azarya, Victor Azarya).
Charlie Azarya (Elor’s father): All strength we need to penetrate the mother of their mother.
Elor: Yes kill them all.
There was way too little blood in this week’s Israeli bombing. If the bombings yielded no deaths, What’s the point? In an op-ed published on Tuesday on the website of far-right Israel Channel 7, Major General (Res.) Amos Yadlin, head of the Institute for National Security Studies (at which former US ambassador Daniel Shapiro works), called on the Israeli government to end the army’s policy of “knocking on roofs”, so as not to give the Hamas leaders it targets the opportunity to escape with their lives and their health intact:
“During war, you don’t inform the enemy in advance so that they can get out of their bunker. We must act to prevent harm to uninvolved people as much as possible, but during war there will be such casualties, and their blood lies on the Hamas leaders who use them as human shields.”
Israel was giving Hamas cash and fuel, then it was bombing with warnings, and now ceasefire. This really became too much for Lieberman. He resigned, calling this a “capitulation to terror”:
“There is no other definition, no other significance, but a capitulation to terror. What we are doing now as a country is buying short-term quiet at the cost of our long-term security.”
All of this has probably just as much to do with Israeli internal politics than it has to do with Gaza, if not more so. Gaza is not just Israel’s battle-testing arena for weapons. It is also its testing arena for ‘security’ toughness. In lieu of an actual existential threat, Israeli politicians can use Gaza as the epitome of evil and destruction against which they can show their resolve. The ‘wars’ are then effective massacres of a besieged, over-crowded and mostly defenseless civilian population incarcerated in an unlivable concentration camp. And the Israeli politicians portray themselves as protectors of the people, as they compete at who is better in destroying another people.
Netanyahu is trying to damage-control the political hysteria, as the politicians smell political blood and opportunity. Netanyahu is currently keeping the Defense portfolio after Lieberman’s resignation, but Bennett’s party, Habayit Hayehudi, has already vowed to leave the coalition if Bennett doesn’t get the Defense Ministry. When Lieberman resigned, he announced that his whole party, Israel Beitenu, would quit the coalition, leaving it at a slender majority of 61-59 seats in the Knesset, and he called for elections as soon as possible. Bennett threatens to tip the boat completely, unless he gets to be Defense Minister (and presumably carry on the aim, to “kill many Arabs”, because for him “there’s no problem with that”).
This is also seen as an opportunity by the left-center opposition. Naturally (for Israel), they try to outflank Netanyahu from the right, on “security”, as well as chiding Lieberman for not being tough enough. Labour leader Avi Gabbay said that “quiet is bought by deterrence, not with money”. Zionist Union Knesset member Ksenia Svetlova mocked Lieberman for his softness in a tweet: “Apparently two long years were not enough for Avigdor Lieberman to elimatinate Haniyeh within 48 hours, as he had promised, but on the other hand, 48 hours was enough for Haniyeh to eliminate Lieberman’s term as defense minister.” Opposition leader Tzipi Livni said that “Deterrence is created through military strikes,” and called to “exchange the Hamas leadership for people who cooperate with us.” Ehud Barak said that Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar was “humiliating Netanyahu.”
The Israeli elections are to be held next year, by November 5th; but many are now pushing for an early election, even in time for the anointed Prime Minister to appear at the AIPAC conference in Washington in March.
Yair Lapid announced that the “countdown has begun”:
“Today the countdown has begun. Today the campaign to restore security, responsibility and leadership to the State of Israel has begun.”
Nothing will change
Nothing will change here. Israeli politicians are playing their macho games of good-cop bad-cop. That’s all soap-opera drama. This may be of great interest for those who see such drama as representing real change, but the sad reality of it is that it does not. For Palestinians, who suffer at the hand of these Zionist narcissists, all of these infightings are as relevant in real life as watching House of Cards. The Israeli solutions, from right to left, stretch from maintaining a genocidal, unlivable status-quo, to actively murdering Palestinians.
They will play their good-cop bad-cop games, they will have their elections and pretend they live in a democracy. And meanwhile, the Palestinians will slowly be poisoned with their un-potable water, if they are meanwhile not bombed into oblivion. The only thing that will affect this unlivable status quo is pressure on Israel from outside. USA is not poised to do that. The UN is largely incapable of helping. It is up to us, citizens of the world, to bring that change about.