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Israeli military chief praises ‘lethal army’ as tensions rise amid a tightening Gaza siege

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Here is yet another example of why you have to read the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, or Al-Jazeera, instead of the U.S. mainstream press, to learn what’s actually happening in Israel/Palestine.

The Israeli paper reports that tensions are rising along the Gaza/Israel fence, as Israeli soldiers shot dead 3 armed Palestinians who were trying to cross it last weekend. Amos Harel, Haaretz’s military correspondent, certainly does not support Hamas. But he is an honest reporter, and instead of reflexively blaming Hamas for that escalation, he points out that the organization is actually “losing its grip” on the Gazan public.

Harel, who relied partly on Israeli intelligence officials as sources, explains that 

the Hamas leadership. . . itself is facing a growing challenge to its control of Gaza from the smaller Palestinian factions and groups that have splintered from Hamas itself.

Harel’s article is corroborated by Al-Jazeera. Harry Fawcett reported that both Hamas and Islamic Jihad say that the 3 armed men who died last weekend were carrying out ”’some kind of freelance individual operation’ that was not sanctioned by the two groups.”  The Al-Jazeera report added:

 The narrative from Hamas has been that this is a case of angry armed men who are acting by themselves out of a sense of anger and frustration with the current situation inside the Gaza Strip.

Why? Because Israel’s siege of Gaza continues, and despite relief promised earlier this year after Tel Aviv’s informal talks with Egypt and Qatar, Amos Harel notes that “the blockade of the Strip has not been lifted and civilian infrastructure remains in sorry condition.”

Several Palestinian factions have just warned that Gaza “is a volcano that is about to erupt” and that “Israel is continuing to play with fire.” This sounds more serious than the flaming kites that have been part of the Great March of Return.

There is nothing new about angry young Salafist men in Gaza growing impatient with Hamas, which did win elections in Gaza in 2006 but which has lost popularity since then. More than 2 years ago, an impressive writer named Sarah Helm published a first-hand report in the New York Review of Books, which explained why ISIS itself was starting to emerge in the beleaguered open-air prison territory. The mainstream American press never followed up on her work. 

The rising danger of conflict puts Benjamin Netanyahu in a dilemma, with the do-over election a month away. Netanyahu is not stupid; he knows that Hamas (and other groups) have strengthened their military defenses inside Gaza, and that another Israeli invasion would end with many Israeli soldiers killed and wounded. Amos Harel says that 

it seems that he [Netanyahu] thinks — fervently — that a military imbroglio in Gaza would put him in real danger of losing the election.

At the same time, Netanyahu’s political opponents, whether on the right or the “center” (no Israeli Jewish leftists of any significance are contesting the election), will jump on him for weakness if the escalation with Gaza explodes into open warfare before the September 17 vote and he is not seen to be acting decisively.

Meanwhile, also in Haaretz, the Palestinian-Israeli writer Odeh Bisharat worries about the Israeli military’s new top leader, General Aviv Kochavi. Bisharat writes:

In. . . Kochavi’s lexicon, there are two common phrases — the first, “lethal army,” and the second, “guaranteeing the army’s preparedness for victory.” I hear them and get goose bumps from the freezing cold in which he spews the words “lethal” and “victory.”

James North

James North is a Mondoweiss Editor-at-Large, and has reported from Africa, Latin America, and Asia for four decades. He lives in New York City.

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