Netanyahu’s Gaza war threatens to evolve into a regional showdown
The wave of sympathy and solidarity from Western leaders that Israel received after Saturday’s surprise attack by hundreds of Hamas fighters on neighboring settlements, military bases and towns has now been offset by a shift in global public opinion. Israel says it has declared war on Hamas, but what is taking place since it began its relentless bombing of the narrow, crowded and besieged Gaza Strip is nothing less than genocide.
Hamas carried out a remarkable Palestinian version of the 1968 Tet Offensive by North Vietnam against South Vietnam, which proved to be a turning point in that war.
Yes, Hamas’ surprise and stunning attack has left more than 1,000 Israelis dead and many more injured. It dealt a humiliating blow to Israel’s vastly superior military and intelligence bodies. And, yes, Hamas was able to take back hundreds of hostages, including senior officers and civilians. Israel has not suffered such a costly strike in all its short and turbulent history. It had to respond.
But let us leave emotions aside and consider the following.
This latest cycle of violence must be viewed in the context of the decades-old Israel-Palestine conflict
This latest cycle of violence must be viewed in the context of the decades-old Israel-Palestine conflict. This was not an isolated incident: Israel had waged war on Gaza multiple times, leaving tens of thousands of Palestinians — almost entirely civilians — dead and maimed. It rained down bombs, blew up residential towers, erased entire neighborhoods and targeted schools, hospitals, mosques and cemeteries. Still, it failed to defeat or degrade the strength of Hamas and other militant groups. In the process, it committed war crimes by killing civilians, primarily women and children, and by enforcing a total blockade against more than 2 million people, denying them access to medicines, fuel, basic needs and even the cement needed to rebuild what it had destroyed. Collective punishment is an Israeli state policy and it is a war crime.
Will this new military campaign be any different? A beleaguered Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to uproot Hamas for good. But decapitating this complex organization means only one thing: wiping Gaza off the map. With the help of Western governments, Israel is using its right to self-defense to create yet another Nakba for Gazans, almost 70 percent of whom are refugees whose families were forced to leave their homes that once stood in the lands where the settlements and towns Hamas attacked now occupy. Doing so would be tantamount to ethnic cleansing, as well as a war crime and a crime against humanity.
In this latest campaign, Israel has surpassed itself with the level of wanton destruction and indiscriminate killing of civilians. In two days, Monday and Tuesday, it killed more than 120 children and annihilated more than 15 families. And the humanitarian situation in Gaza was catastrophic even before the Israeli attack.
Netanyahu and his far-right partners want to vindicate themselves before an unforgiving Israeli public by shedding Palestinian blood. Netanyahu posted a video of a residential building blown to pieces on his social media account. This shameless act reflects his attempt to appease the public by showing that he is avenging Israeli victims by killing innocents.
This latest bloody cycle underlines a couple of facts. The first is that the US has failed to find a political solution to a conflict it has for years embraced and monopolized, while sidelining the international community. The US became an apologist for an Israel that violates international law, the Geneva Conventions and UN resolutions daily in the occupied West Bank and Golan Heights and the besieged Gaza Strip. By providing Israeli leaders with political cover for decades, the two-state solution became an empty slogan rather than a genuine path to peace.
Israel has surpassed itself with the level of wanton destruction and indiscriminate killing of civilians
The second fact has to do with Netanyahu himself. He is an egotistical, self-serving, cunning and cynical leader who, over 30 years, has managed to sabotage the Oslo Accords, neutralize the Israeli left, nurture the Jewish settlers, empower the far right, weaken the Palestinian Authority and, finally, polarize and divide Israel over his controversial judicial overhaul that would turn the country into an authoritarian entity.
He is now trying to use this war to salvage his political career. This is dangerous. He is dragging an unsuspecting Biden administration into a regional war that also aims to bring Hezbollah and Iran into the fight. Provoking Hezbollah, as Israel has been doing in the past few days, will unsettle the entire region and open hell’s gates. The US and other Western governments should pause and think before they issue statements backing Israel’s right to self-defense and the Palestinian “ambition” for self-determination.
A ground offensive against Gaza, as now appears to be likely, would have huge repercussions for the Palestinians, Israel and Egypt — and beyond. The US should revisit the lessons of Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan before it rushes into a conflict it has already helped prolong. The region is in a mess because of Israeli policies and the US’ inability to realize that its allies in the region are waking up to a new geopolitical reality. This latest crisis is part of the labor pains of a new multipolar world order announcing its imminent birth.
And finally, the Western governments that rushed to show solidarity with Israel should look in the mirror. Netanyahu and his far-right government have hijacked Israel and turned it into a de facto apartheid state that openly practices ethnic cleansing, racism and collective punishment, oppresses Palestinians, kills and detains children and is now committing genocide.
When Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant ordered a “complete siege” of Gaza — meaning no water, no food and no electricity should get in — and added that “we are fighting human animals and we act accordingly,” not one Western politician came out to condemn his racist comments or the fact he had admitted to committing a war crime. If Vladimir Putin said this or bombed entire neighborhoods of Kyiv, the entire West would rise up in protest and condemnation. The hypocrisy and double standards are disgusting, and public opinion in the West is shifting.
Israel may win this round, but it will also lose big time. The massacres it is committing in Gaza will haunt the world for many years. Hamas is not an elected entity that controls the lives of more than 2 million civilians. Those civilians had nothing to do with Saturday’s attack. Punishing them in this way is a war crime, no matter the motives.
The US should be careful about its next move concerning this war. While morality has nothing to do with US foreign policy, it should at least think of its own interests if Netanyahu succeeds in dragging it into yet another genocidal war in the Middle East.
- Osama Al-Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman. X: @plato010