By Daniel Levy

Source: www.cfr.org

“In all my years in office I haven’t declared a war”

With those words (and others) Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launched his re-election campaign in an October speech to the Knesset. Well, at least that part of the election message box might now have to change. In launching Operation Pillar of Defence Netanyahu is taking an uncharacteristic gamble – albeit a calculated risk. The decision was very likely made with the prompting of his Defence Minister Ehud Barak (who unlike the Prime Minister has little to lose politically, with Barak’s Independence party barely scraping the threshold to enter the Knesset, and is predicated on a number of circumstances having aligned. To be clear, this was an escalation of choice by Israel’s leadership (and it could become yet another war of choice). As the timeline of events over the last week makes clear, the killing of a Palestinian minor on November 8th during an IDF incursion into Gaza initiated a round of escalation which was already drawing to a close on November 11th and 12th, leading to formal reports from a number of Israeli, Palestinian and international sources that a new truce was in place on November 13th. Israel then assassinated Hamas’ military chief Ahmed al-Jabari on November 14th.

Of course, Israel’s leaders have been under pressure for months and even years since the last attack on Gaza (Operation Cast Lead, in December 2008 and January 2009) to ratchet up Israel’s response to the intermittent rocket fire on Israeli civilians, in violation of international law. But that pressure was not significantly greater this time around nor why a tipping point was now reached. Hamas has also been under pressure to do more to alleviate the closure still largely imposed on Gaza and to demonstrate that it has not adopted a Fatah-like acquiescence to the overall occupation. Too often there is a failure to contextualise any escalation beyond the tit-for-tat of the current news cycle – in the past almost four years since Cast Lead 271 Palestinians and 3 Israelis have lost their lives in exchanges of hostilities (according to B’Tselem). And there is the bigger picture. Palestinians remain stateless, denied basic rights and under occupation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and in many respects Gaza too.

One does not have to be a card-carrying member of Cynics Anonymous to suggest that the timing of the Israeli escalation has rather a lot to do with the approaching elections in Israel. It would also though be mistaken to view events exclusively through that lens. So what was the Israeli leadership’s assessment which prompted the launching of Operation Pillar of Defence and what might that tell us about its intended outcome and trajectory? Read more…

Daniel Levy is the Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at ECFR. He is also Senior Research Fellow at the New America Foundation and Senior Fellow at The Century Foundation.

As published in by the European Council on Foreign Relations on November 16, 2012.


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