As Israeli elections near, the country's cycle of perpetual military occupation and violence continues


Yesterday, after rocket-fire from the Gaza Strip wounded seven civilians, the Israeli Defence Forces released a statement on its Twitter profile announcing it had began striking Hamas targets. At the same time media outlets including Haaretz and The Times of Israel, and as well as Al Jazeera reports seemed to indicate that IDF brigades and units were mobilising along the border between Gaza and Israel. Simultaneously, in a move which has angered the Gulf States, Syria, Iran and Hezbollah, President Trump at the White House, with Prime Minister Netanyahu present and U.S Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (who recently described Trump as a ‘God’), signed a statement recognising Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, Syrian territory which was conquered by the IDF during the Six Day War in 1967.

In 45 minutes, the Trump administration, with the connivance of Netanyahu’s government (the most right-wing in Israeli history) has pushed the Middle East closer to regional war and done critical damage to the Middle East Peace Process which began in the 1990s. At the same time, as with the recognition by the United States of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital - a move made at the expense of the Palestinians - in 2018, Jared Kushner’s so-called peace plan for the Middle East is a smoke screens for a nakedly pro-Israeli policy and has disqualified any notion that the United States can be regarded as a serious player in the Middle East Peace Process. Far from solving the Arab-Israeli conflict, and by extent the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Trump and his son have destabilised the Middle East and jeopardised the security of its allies, including the Israelis.

The IDF mobilisation around Gaza comes at an interesting time within the context of politics in both Israel and the Gaza Strip. Last week, protests broke out against Hamas - which its security forces (who have been accused of torture) cracked on with extreme brutality - while the Israeli elections are due to take place in April. Speaking to Dr. Bregman from King’s College London, an expert on the Arab-Israeli conflict, he argued Gaza and Israel’s leadership will likely not want to see an escalation beyond the airstrikes conducted yesterday.

“Both sides do not want to see a great escalation and for now both sides are relatively careful; but one never knows. If another Hamas rocket lands on an Israeli house, killing or injuring people, Netanyahu, who's in the midst of an election campaign, and under pressure to act, will escalate. Hamas initiated the current crisis by firing deep into Israel (which, by the way, is a great military achievement for it). The Hamas leadership is under immense domestic pressure, as there is an unprecedented humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip. Fifty-seven per cent of Gazans are unemployed. There's shortage of electricity. Shortage of drinking water. Two million people are locked in inside the Strip. Attacking Israel is aimed not to destroy the Jewish state, but to try to get it relieve the siege on the Gaza Strip. To stop the recurring attacks one must tackle the real problem - the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.”

Prime Minister Netanyahu, beset by accusations of corruption, needs conflict and division to survive even it means dividing Israeli society and scapegoating the Palestinians. He is a man who thrives on creating an atmosphere of fear, not dissimilar from Donald Trump and other strong-men across the globe. "Netanyahu is throwing away democracy." said a protester in Tel Aviv. " He's looking for a new model of leadership. He's looking at Erdogan, at Putin. He doesn't care about democracy." "I'm not telling you anything new," said Mike Gravel, a former US Senator speaking to Reuters in 2011. "The French President Sarkozy says he's a liar. Netanyahu is a liar. He's made statements about Iran that are absolutely ridiculous. He is part of the George Bush syndrome that is create a bunker mentality and create fear. With fear, you can do anything." 

Netanyahu's posturing on Iran and the bizarre 'Iran Lied' presentation in 2018 has turned a simmering conflict with Tehran into a hot confrontation between the United States and the Iranian government. The thuggish, and at times insolent attitude, towards the international community and the Trumpian nature of Netanyahu's politics, including unabashed meddling in U.S politics have had serious consequences for Israeli society and regional stability. Some consequences, like the Iraq War (which Netanyahu and current National Security Adviser, John Bolton fiercely advocated for in 2002), are already playing out. Others such as President Trump's exit from the Joint Plan of Action are not so clear yet, but it has led to an escalation in tensions between Israel, the United States and Iran which has spread fears that a major regional war is inevitable. The confrontation with Iran in Syria, will also mean a confrontation with Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria where its military wing, the Jihad Council, has been active since 2012. 

According to Relief Web, Staffan de Mistura, speaking via video conference from Geneva, told the Security Council, referring to an exchange of missiles and airstrikes between Iran and Israel, that 'the intensity of international confrontations over Syria during the last month were unprecedented since 1973.' 1973 is a reference to the Yom Kippur War, a violent, brutal war between Golda Meir's Israel and Anwar Sadat's Egypt who launched a coordinated offensive with Hafez Al-Asad's Syria into the Egyptian Sinai and the Syrian Golan (currently occupied by the Israelis) in October, 1973. By recognising the Golan Heights as Israeli, Trump had sanctified that it is acceptable to seize land by military means (during which 95% of Syrian civilians were ethnically cleansed from the Golan Heights with the exception of 6,000 Druze, and subsequently colonised by Israeli settlers) and annex territory without fear of consequences. It is a message to Russia and President Putin that his annexation of Crimea, commonly agreed as a violation of international law, will be acceptable fifty years down the road. From Putin’s perspective, it clarifies his worldwide view that hypocrisy is embedded in U.S policy when previous presidents such as Barack Obama have said “The United States will not accept Russia's occupation and attempted annexation of Crimea." Trump, clueless about the Middle East, has set a dangerous precedent in international politics by recognising Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights,

The Yom Kippur War, while ushering in the Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel had a dramatic impact upon Israeli society. The comparisons did not escape Ravit Hecht in Haaretz . "On the eve of a horrifying potential clash with Iran, which is closer than ever before, Israel is wrapped from head to toe in an amazing euphoria, a manic intoxication with force, a disastrous feeling of omnipotence.  It’s crude hubris. And as our parents, scarred by the 1973 Yom Kippur War, can attest, the greater the hubris, the greater the shock. The deeper the rupture. The darker the abyss." Similarly, Netanyahu's tenure in office has ratcheted up the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians to unprecedented levels both in terms of the extremity of the violence and the rhetoric involved. The Gaza Wars (2009, 2012, 2014), the first intifada and the suicide bombers operating from Gaza during the second intifada have been central to catalysing these extremes. Since demonstrations and protests began on March 30, 2018, Israeli soldiers have shot and killed more than 100 Palestinian protesters (including Hamas supporters) inside the Gaza Strip.

Over sixty were killed in a single day on May 14, 2018 , and thousands more were wounded as Ivanka Trump, daughter of the U.S president, opened the U.S embassy in Jerusalem. In those exact moments of the embassy opening, Israeli snipers gunned down men, women and children. The Israeli military suffered no deaths and no wounded in a scene of appalling violence, not dissimilar to brutal military and police crackdowns on protesters in Bahrain, Syria, Egypt and Iraq seen in repressive states during the Arab Revolutions. The brutality meted out on the Palestinian protesters, in stark contrast to Trump’s daughter Ivanka and his son-in-law Kushner, and Netanyahu’s gloating, at the U.S Embassy in Jerusalem made for a shocking day in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 183 have been killed along the border since March 2018 and 9,204 wounded at-least.

Of-course, one can argue that savage violence has always existed between the Israelis and Palestinians. Thomas Friedman's account From Beirut to Jerusalem details again and again of the brutal violence and tit-for-tat bloodshed between the Israelis and Palestinians and the interrogations and torture conducted by the Shin Bet, settlers being burned alive by Molotov cocktails and Palestinians slandering Israelis in Hebrew and Israelis slandering Palestinians in Arabic. Extra-judicial killings of Palestinian terrorists and civilians and radical Palestinian groups launching vicious acts of terror against Israeli politicians and civilians at home and abroad were well-documented. However, since Operation Cast Lead in Gaza during 2008 , the violence being inflicted is becoming frighteningly barbarous as events in Gaza in 2014 and March 2018 have demonstrated as Palestinians are shot and mutilated by sniper fire each week as Hamas-led protests continue.

Israel's Nation State of the Jewish People Law introduced by Netanyahu's government in July, 2018 has drawn international outrage from the Jewish diaspora while Washington has remained silent on the matter. Divisions also exist between Israelis themselves, and have been catalysed by regional changes, the Palestinian conflict and internal changes within Israeli society which the binaries of the Israeli-Arab conflict have led the international community to overlook. In an interview with E-International Relations, Ahron Bregman, author of Cursed Victory: A History of the Occupied Territories, asserts that internal problems are coming to the fore as its relations with the Arab states, to some extent, normalise (Iran and its proxies excluded).  "Ironically, it was the external threat that, for years, kept the Israelis together. The “outside enemy” – real or imaginary – used to be the glue bonding Israeli society together. Now that this external threat is lifting (a process which started as early as 1979 with the signing of peace between Israel and Egypt) Israel has started to resemble the biblical tribes. For with the glue provided by the constant external threat gone, the divisions in Israeli society and other illnesses are apparent and for all to see." A one-state reality and the Knesset’s confused settlement policies, threaten to permanently undo partition of the contested land and tie the two ethnic groups together setting in motion the creation of a bi-national state; an artificial Bosnia. Bosnia, to some extent a European Middle East, was ripped apart by terrible violence, ethnic cleansing and ultra-violent nationalism between 1992 and 1995 sparked by the wider Yugoslav Wars between the Balkan States.

Trumpism has given a cart blanche to the right-wing coalition to act with naked impunity, accelerate its settlement projects, absorb the Palestinian Territories and complete its annexation of the Syrian Golan. Of-course, the worst case scenarios are difficult to imagine, however Israel is a nation and no nation, particularly young ones, is impervious to civil war, no matter how unlikely it appears on the surface. Speaking to The Times of Israel,  'former Mossad chief Tamir Pardo warned in August, 2016 (that) Israeli society is heading for civil war and the country must take steps to counter it.' “The internal threat must worry us more than the external threat," said Pardo. “If a divided society goes beyond a certain point, you can end up, in extreme circumstances, with phenomena like civil war. To my regret, the distance [until we reach that point] is shrinking. I fear that we are going in that direction." These divisions were multiple and aggravated by identity politics, sectarianism and a environment of hyper-nationalism. “There are some for whom it’s comfortable to emphasise that which divides and not that which unites. I can’t put my finger on a group or a leader. It exists within all the country’s groups.” Pardo went on to say that 'the establishment of an independent Palestinian state is crucial to region-wide peace in the Middle East, joining the ranks of retired security men to urge the government to seek a two-state solution.'

If alarm bells are coming from right-wing Israelis, ex-intelligence and pro-Israeli Americans, not simply left-wing Israelis and pro-Palestinian activists, a problem exists. One state reality or two-state solution, the current Israeli government, drunk with power, and Netanyahu's insufferable hubris is walking its people towards a dark era in the country's history, one which could have disastrous implications for its multi-cultural, religiously diverse communities and society.  These are being infected by Netanyahu's strongman politics and it has culminated in the cementing of a brutal occupation with the added ingredients of apartheid-like policies and similar divide and conquer strategies utilised by mukhabbarat and military forces elsewhere in the Middle East. The international community must act not simply for the Palestinians and minorities in the short-term, it must act to save the Israelis from tearing themselves apart in the long-term.

One day, Netanyahu's insufferable hubris will return to haunt Israeli society. History will judge him and Trump administration and his Trump's son-in-law very harshly as they push Israel down the road of permanent occupation and growing isolation from the international community. In a year, the Trump administration and Netanyahu have put in place the final touches for the total destruction of the Middle East peace process, flagrantly violated international law by recognising Golan Heights as Israeli territory, & given green light for potential war in Gaza. If the perpetual threat of war with its neighbours is stability and security for Israel, then Netanyahu - Israel’s Milosevic - and Trump should be considered as big a threat to Israeli society as external enemies like Syria, Iran and Hezbollah. Netanyahu and Trump have been a disaster for Israel.