Israel bombs Gaza
Israel has unleashed a wave of air attacks on Gaza since Friday, killing at least 31 people, including six children.
It has warned that its “preemptive” operation against the Palestinian Islamic Jihad could last a week. Its raids have destroyed apartment buildings and killed two senior officials from the armed group.
Rocket sirens sounded west of Jerusalem on Sunday as rockets were launched into Israel. The Iron Dome missile defence system intercepted 97 percent of Palestinian rockets, the military said, and no casualties had been reported.
While the Israeli strikes went on, hitting what the military said were weapons depots hidden in residential areas and destroying a number of houses, Islamic Jihad fired rocket salvoes as far as Israel’s commercial hub Tel Aviv.
Following the bloody Israeli strikes in the last hour, the death toll rose to 41 and the wounded to about 300.
Israeli forces on Friday bombed an apartment building in the centre of Gaza City, killing Tayssir al-Jabari, Islamic Jihad’s northern commander, and at least nine others, including a five-year-old girl and a 23-year-old woman.
Around 2.3 million Palestinians are packed into the narrow coastal Gaza Strip, with Israel and Egypt tightly restricting movement of people and goods in and out of the enclave and imposing a naval blockade, citing security concerns. Israel stopped the planned transport of fuel into Gaza shortly before it launched its attacks, crippling the territory’s lone power plant and reducing the electricity supply to about four hours per day and drawing warnings from health officials that hospitals would be severely impacted within days.
Tensions rose this week after Israeli forces arrested an Islamic Jihad commander in the occupied West Bank, drawing threats of retaliation from the group. The military said it had apprehended 19 more members of the group there on Saturday.
Israeli Defence Minister said dozens of the group’s rocket facilities in Gaza had been destroyed.
The United States fully supported Israel’s right to defend itself, the U.S. State Department said on Saturday, and it urged all sides to avoid further escalation.
Possible ceasefire approaching
Islamic Jihad militants and Israel are reported to have agreed a truce brokered by Egypt, but officially talks are still in progress.
Reports of a potential ceasefire deal come amid concerns over the humanitarian situation in Gaza, as health officials warned that hospitals only had enough fuel to run generators for another two days.
A further escalation of the violence could depend on whether Hamas would opt to join the fighting alongside Islamic Jihad. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said, “The Israeli enemy, which started the escalation against Gaza and committed a new crime, must pay the price and bear full responsibility for it.”
However, several Palestinian sources have reported that leaders of Hamas in the Gaza Strip are putting pressure on Islamic Jihad to agree to a ceasefire with Israel.
Ismail Haniyeh, leader of Hamas, said that “around the clock” efforts were being made to “protect our people and stop the (Israeli) aggression.”
As part of the efforts, Haniyeh reportedly contacted mediators – Egypt, Qatar and the UN.
An Egyptian intelligence delegation headed by Major General Ahmed Abdelkhaliq arrived in Israel on Saturday and would be travelling to Gaza for mediation talks, two Egyptian security sources said. They were hoping to secure a day’s ceasefire in order to carry out the talks, the sources added.
“Intensive efforts have been made this evening and the movement listened to the mediators, but these efforts haven’t reached an agreement yet,” an Islamic Jihad official told Reuters late on Saturday.
Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz said the ongoing operation in Gaza will continue “as long as necessary.”
In a joint statement, the Israeli officials said the army will continue “to strike terrorist targets and operatives, and to thwart rocket-launching squads,” DPA reported.
Lapid hailed the cooperation between the army, intelligence and ISA.
Strategy for elections?
Many believe that the latest attack by Israel is a strategy by Israeli PM Yair Lapid to gain support ahead of the upcoming elections in Israel in November.
Friday’s attack came on the heels of previous assaults, including drone strikes on the Gaza Strip, leading some observers to suggest the current escalation is a calculated move. The West Bank, too, has also seen a rise in Israeli attacks by soldiers and settlers alike, as well as arrests of Palestinians and home demolitions.
“Israel is arming its settlers in the West Bank to shoot and kill Palestinians and not to [do so] under the chain of command of the military. So what we’re seeing right now is an intensification of Israel’s military strategy of ‘shock and awe’,” said Mariam Barghouti, a Ramallah-based researcher.
“Let’s also keep in mind that Israeli elections are coming this November, and there’s this trend of Israeli leaders to use Gaza as a weapon to rally the Israeli settler population.”
Israel appeared intent on escalating the situation when Prime Minister Yair Lapid said on Thursday that Israel “will not shy away from using force to restore normal life in the south of the country, and we will not stop the policy of arresting terrorist operatives in Israel”.
Nour Odeh, a former Palestinian Authority government spokesman and a political analyst, suggested the latest attack could be politically motivated.
“Gaza is traumatised. It has not recovered yet. Hamas and Jihad were going out of their way to maintain calm and give people a chance to breathe. No one was seeking an escalation – except Lapid,” said Odeh.
“It’s a contest to show who’s more powerful. Lapid wants to prove he has what it takes, even though he has no military background,” she added.
Israel’s latest election Poll put Netanyahu’s Bloc ahead With 62-seat Majority. The early election poll is the first to put leader of the opposition Benjamin Netanyahu with a majority, while Ayelet Shaked’s Zionist Spirit did not make the cut.
Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s bloc of parties would win 62 Knesset seats if elections were to be held today, a Channel 13 News survey revealed on Thursday, the highest number garnered by the former prime minister’s bloc in a poll this election season.
Furthermore, Kahanist lawmaker and leader of the Otzma Yehudit party Itamar Ben-Gvir reportedly reached an agreement with head of Religious Zionism’s Bezalel Smotrich, to join forces and form a new list in the November elections. Ben Gvir’s party will hold four of the top ten spots in the newly formed list.
The fact that former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Lapid’s main competitor in the elections, is basing the entire electoral campaign of his party, Likud, on the fact that Lapid sits in a government together with the “Islamist” list headed by Mansour Abbas, reinforces this explanation for Lapid’s decision.
Abbas is the head of a coalition of Palestinian parties in the Israeli parliament, the United Arab List, whose support would be vital for Lapid to form a majority in any future government.
Given that the right-wing denigrates Lapid as someone who “has sold the country to the Muslim Brotherhood and the supporters of terror,” his demonstrating toughness against the Palestinians could help Lapid counter Netanyahu’s propaganda, as well as the attacks of the right wing parties in Israel.
However, there are also signs that the elections are not the only reason for this escalation. According to Middle East Eye, another explanation for Israel’s unprovoked attack on Gaza this past week may come from another direction entirely.
Recently there have been renewed contacts between the United States, Iran, the European Union, China and Russia on the question of extending the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.
Observers are predicting that prospects for achieving this are not good, but the fact that these discussions are still in progress is worrying to Israel, which is doing its utmost to disrupt them.
US President Joe Biden’s visit to the Middle East last month was, from Israel’s standpoint, a means to eliminate the last chances of an agreement with Iran, and instead to create a regional anti-Iranian military alliance to which Israel would be a party.
This did not happen, and the upshot of the regional conference convened by Saudi Arabia in Jeddah actually was an apparent willingness to reach an agreement with Iran rather than confront it.
If Israel’s interest called for preventing Iran from developing a nuclear capability, it should have supported the extension of the non-proliferation treaty: Iran, after President Donald Trump’s 2018 move to unilaterally withdraw the US from that agreement, has only improved its nuclear capabilities.
Israel’s real concern is that lifting sanctions on Iran will enhance its economic and political position in the region and indirectly strengthen the forces of opposition to Israel.
A military operation in Gaza that would force the PIJ to fire on Israel, positioning Iran as a “sponsor of terror” because of its support for the PIJ, could help Israel in its attempts to torpedo an agreement in Vienna.
Another relevant consideration may involve Hamas. Mi
Israel has long had an interest in the division between Hamas and Fatah and between Gaza and the West Bank. Israeli leaders have more than once implied being in favour of continued rule by Hamas in Gaza.
Lately, it seems increasingly evident that relations between Israel and the Hamas government in Gaza are starting to resemble relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah: economic concessions in exchange for peace and quiet. Allowing more Gaza workers and merchants entry to Israel is part of that trend. Damage to the PIJ in Gaza could help Hamas “restrain” the former, with further concessions as the quid pro quo.
Thus, although the upcoming elections most probably do play a factor in the strikes on Gaza, other factors such as countering Iran may play an even greater role in the attacks.