Media Analysis

The ‘stars aligned’ in Israeli politics (and a nameless Gaza family is massacred)

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Israel called its recent onslaught on Gaza “operation Black Belt.” The two-day attack started on November 12th with Israel’s extrajudicial assassination bombing of Islamic Jihad commander Baha abu al-Ata (killing him and his wife, wounding two of his children) and by its completion killed 34 Palestinians, over half whom were civilians.

The assault also included the bombing– in a “mistake”– of a family, the al-Sawarkahs, killing nine, including five children, two of them infants.

Speaking at the height of the operation, Israeli Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman said of the timing, that “the stars aligned so that it was the right timing” – a time to kill, that is.

Haaretz reported that comment two days ago in an article in Hebrew by Yaniv Kubovitch and Amos Harel. This precise quote is omitted in the English version of the article, which is shortened, and only features Yaniv Kubovitch as author.

But the whole story is even more cynical-making.

The focus of the Haaretz article  is a letter sent by the Israeli army Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi to all army units, hailing the success of the recent operation. As the article notes in its subtitle, the “Nine family members killed by mistake in an Israeli strike are not mentioned in the letter Kochavi sent to all army units.”

Actually that’s not the case. The letter does address the al-Sawarkah massacre, and tries to make it go away.

But first the back story. Immediately following the bombing on November 14, the Israeli military’s Arabic-language spokesperson Avichay Adraee posted on his official social media accounts that a senior Islamic Jihad commander by the name of Abu Malhous was killed in the strike.

This statement was false, and irresponsible. Yaniv Kubovitch reported at the time:

Haaretz found that the false statement, which defense sources confirmed wasn’t based on any intelligence gathered by Israeli security agencies, was inspired by unreliable information shared on social media, including an Israeli Telegram group.

Palestinian students look on the pictures of members of Sawarka family who were killed by an Israeli airstrike, at their school, in Deir al-Balah, central of Gaza Strip on November 16, 2019. (Photo: Ashraf Amra/APA Images)
Palestinian students look on the pictures of members of Sawarka family who were killed by an Israeli airstrike, at their school, in Deir al-Balah, central of Gaza Strip on November 16, 2019. (Photo: Ashraf Amra/APA Images)

So they had identified “the wrong guy”? No– after that, the claim from the army went, that the al-Sawarkahs’ house was thought to be an empty shack, belonging to Islamic Jihad “terror infrastructure”. Kubovitch further revealed:

The building where the family lived was on a list of potential targets, but Israeli defense officials confirmed to Haaretz that it had not been looked at over the past year or checked prior to the attack.

Then the army changed the story again, and its spokesman said that “the building was confirmed as a target several days before the attack”.

But now the dust has settled, and chief of staff Kochavi needs these soldiers to be proud, and not have them doubt that they are still the most moral in the world when they see the photos of the al-Sawarkah family. So in anticipation of the odd or nosy soldiers who might be wondering about that bombed family, Kochavi inserted a question into his letter to all soldiers:

“What happened on the night of the attack of November 14, in which a family was killed in Deir al-Balah?”.

Reporter Kubovitch summarizes Kochavi’s answer to his own question:

According to the answer, buildings that were identified as Islamic Jihad infrastructure were attacked. These buildings were “incriminated” as a military target several months ago, and checked by experts once again several days before it was attacked. The commanders were instructed to explain to the soldiers that after an initial investigation into the incident, the identification of the target and the planning of the attack were done in accordance with the obligatory IDF instructions, and that the investigation of the incident is ongoing.

See, the victims hardly need to be mentioned. They are not even just numbers – they hardly even exist. Just a “target”, an “incriminated” one too, and if you heard anything about a whole family being massacred, well, that’s just propaganda – we’re investigating…

So, back to those “stars” aligning, as the Shin Bet chief said. It makes sense to look to the stars, when there appears to be no other legitimate explanation for the timing of the extrajudicial assassination which opened this two-day carnage. Let us not even question the legitimacy of extrajudicial assassination. In Israel these killings are seen as completely mainstream, even Netaynahu’s ‘liberal’ opponent Benny Gantz promised to return to more systematic assassinations if he got elected, during a campaign in which he boasted of having brought Gaza back to the “stone age”.

No, the timing is the question. About this, even the conservative Michael J. Koplow in Israel Policy Forum noted:

The strike was unusual, coming amidst a period of relative quiet in Gaza and during an Israeli moratorium on targeted assassinations of Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders.

So if the explanation of the timing is not really in the stars, as the Shin Bet chief suggests, where is it? As always, politics. The attack took place in the midst of Benny Gantz’s (now failed) attempt to create a government coalition, following Netanyahu’s failure to do the same in the month before. The attack predictably got Gantz to praise the army for making “the right decision,” adding that he had received updates on the strike before it was carried out.

“Blue and White will support any justified action taken to keep Israel safe, and we place the security of our residents above politics,” Gantz said.

When Israeli politicians say “above politics”, it almost always is the precise opposite – they are just desperately trying to hide it.

Gantz needed to save his militant credibility, which was being eroded by Netanyahu’s charge that Gantz was trying to create a “weak” government reliant on the “Arabs,” who support “terror.” So Gantz would bring on Israel’s “annihilation”.

The Gaza onslaught showed the muscle and resolve that Zionists like to see. Even though he is the caretaker of a transitional government, Netanyahu can still kill many Arabs. And Gantz couldn’t not praise that.

Israeil army “recap” of its assault leaves out the massacre of the 9 members of the al-Sawarkah family.

So, the stars did align, after all: Netanyahu, Gantz, and Kochavi all lined up and united the nation against the common enemy – Gazan men, women and children, the inhabitants of the uninhabitable concentration camp.

No one needs to know the names of these people. They are just terror targets. All the rest is commentary.

H/t Ronit Lentin

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“Speaking at the height of the operation, Israeli Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman said of the timing, that “the stars aligned so that it was the right timing” – a time to kill, that is”

The “stars aligned” while Israel can’t align up a government.