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By flexing his muscles, Liberman gives Gaza's radicals a boost

This week’s air strikes allowed Defense Minister Liberman to demonstrate to the Israeli public that not even the smallest violation of the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas will be tolerated.

Palestinians salvage materials at night from destroyed homes in the village of Khuza'a, eastern Gaza Strip, November 6, 2014. Many Palestinians in the Gaza Strip face hard living conditions following the seven-week Israeli offensive during which 2,131 Palestinians were killed, and an estimate of 18,000 housing units have been either destroyed or severely damaged, leaving more than 108,000 people homeless. By: Anne Paq/Activestills.org

Palestinians salvage materials from destroyed homes in the village of Khuza’a, eastern Gaza Strip, November 6, 2014. (Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

The Israeli air raids on Gaza overnight Sunday were the largest in scope and impact since the 2014 war. This was enough to set tongues wagging about the imminence of another full-blown war — an event that has punctuated Israel’s blockade of Gaza with depressing regularity, every two or three years since 2006. Yet it was clear almost immediately that the strikes were not of the kind intended to shore up an escalation.

True, they were disproportionate even by Israeli standards: scores of state-of-the-art missiles were lobbed at 50 targets in response to one rocket fired from Gaza at the Israeli city of Sderot by a Salafi group. But the entire escalation ended without fatalities on either side, and with only a few people in Gaza wounded. Moreover, instead of targeting installations held by the Salafis (if they hold any sizable installations at all), the majority of the strikes were aimed at empty government buildings and unmanned structures belonging to Hamas — which is to say, the very nemesis of the group that launched that rocket to begin with.

The real purpose of the strikes, then, seems to have been much closer to home — to impress upon the Israeli public that now that the perennial hardliner Avigdor Liberman is the head of the Ministry of Defense, not even the smallest violation of the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas will be tolerated.

This does not mean that Liberman is interested in an escalation. The IDF is dead set against escalating at this point, and so, it seems, is most of Netanyahu’s cabinet and the prime minister himself.

More importantly for Liberman, if he begins putting his money where his mouth had been all these years, he has nothing left to sell to the Israeli public in his final bid to succeed Netanyahu as prime minister. These kinds of air strikes allow him to demonstrate that he is tougher than the rest of the cabinet combined, and still hint that his hands are tied by cautious and overly pragmatic prime minister.

Smoke caused by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, seen on July 16, 2014. Operation 'Protective Edge' enters it's ninth day of Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip, as yesterday's ceasefire agreement proposed by Egypt has failed to restore calm. (photo: Activestills.org)

Smoke caused by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, seen on July 16, 2014. (photo: Activestills.org)

The air raids, of course, come in the context of a decade of carefully engineered and maintained humanitarian calamity, and much more than a decade of punishing bombardments, shelling and invasions; the horror that even sonic booms, much less airstrikes, inflict on Gaza’s relentlessly traumatized population cannot be overestimated.

Still the fact that 50 targets were hit with zero fatalities testifies to a considerable effort by the IDF to make as much noise as it could while avoiding another all-out war (Gaza is so densely packed that it’s much easier to hit someone than to miss). It also testifies to a considerable degree of luck. If one of the buildings hit in the raids collapsed on a nearby family home, or if shrapnel from the bombs had hit a hospital, there would be much more pressure on paramilitaries in Gaza to respond, which would result in Liberman escalating some more, and so on and so forth, until we were, indeed, right back in 2014 (or 2012, or 2009).

There are risks for Liberman in such a situation — if the war goes horribly wrong for Israel, he will almost certainly have to take the blame. There is also a potential for gain: in the event of an all-out war in Gaza, Liberman will be the natural leader of the cabinet hawks that habitually nudge Netanyahu to go the whole nine yards and displace Hamas, consequences — including the rise of ISIS-like Salafi groups in its stead — be damned.

While Liberman may not even want to actually bring down Hamas, he is certainly going out of his way to show that he is more willing than either his predecessor or his prime minister to take a few steps in that direction. It will be surprising if the Salafi group that launched that solitary rocket on Sunday night fails to take notice of that peculiar constellation of interests between themselves and Israel’s new defense minister, and to do whatever they can to inflate Liberman’s contrived recklessness into the real deal.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Bruce Gould

      BTW, there’s an interesting article over at The Forward – “If Israel’s Occupation Is Permanent, Why Isn’t It The Same As Apartheid”?

      http://forward.com/opinion/348267/if-israels-occupation-is-permanent-why-isnt-it-the-same-as-apartheid/?attribution=home-hero-item-text-1

      “Without a two-state solution, the Jewish state will, like the white South African state, be a system of minority rule — the very opposite of democracy. Without a two-state solution, only through the permanent disenfranchisement of 5 million people can the “Jewish state” even exist. And that is where the final difference finally falls apart. Contrary to the left’s slogans, Israel isn’t an apartheid state today. But without a two-state solution, it will soon become one.”

      Reply to Comment
    2. Average American

      Talking about “war” with Gaza is silly. Gaza has nothing with which to mount a “war” with Israel, the most highly militarized country in the region (and a little too proud of it). Gaza cannot get anything with which to “war”. How about war with Hamas? Maybe elsewhere, but not from Gaza. Israel, on the other hand, tries to equate military action with good government. In reality, Israel has an advanced dangerous military with retarded (backward) government. The military aspect is obvious. The retarded governmnet is shown by turning the clock back 1600 years by reinstating The Sanhedrin. And, for those of you who follow prophesy, building the Third Temple for the Anti-Christ to live in. So this “attack” on Gaza is theater, a show, to make Israelis think “yeah, we’re tough” or something like that.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Duh

      Reading the rest of that article, the writer clearly knows apartheid was implemented under the fig leaf of a multiple nation-state solution so South Africa could be a white state while the black Africans had their own “homelands”. So how is it not disingenuous in the extreme to call the occupation “apartheid” while pushing for a two-state solution? Zionism from 1897 has similarly attempted to create an immigrant-settler majority enclave in Palestine within as much of that country’s land as possible. What the Palestinians have leftover will be a ghetto or a bantustan regardless of what kind of int’l recognition it receives.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Carmen

      I think Netanyahoo and his predecessors killed the 2 state ‘solution’ and to continue to talk as if it is even viable any longer is ridiculous. The only way forward is one democratic secular state for all. This does not mean death to Jewish israelis; that’s just BS and fear-mongering at work, plus the racism of the ‘chosen’ people. All the settler colonialists can take their dual-citizenship and go back to their countries of origin because frankly it would be a breath of fresh air to have those outlaws out.

      Reply to Comment
    5. R5

      Dimi: I’m sorry that none of the BDS drones who commented here said anything about your article. I hope its some consolation that at least one person (me) read it. I agree with your analysis. Do you think the freshly retired cabal of IDF generals will muster a political challenge to DJ Bibi and the bouncer in chief?

      Reply to Comment
    6. Average American

      That would be perfect. A military junta takeover, just fitting for this banana republic third-world country.

      Reply to Comment
    7. R5

      Average American: What makes you “Average”? Is it something you are, or something you’re not? Also, not talking about a Junta. Talking about retired generals entering politics on a centrist platform. Lastly, appreciate that you understand that Israel looks closer to the third world than most people realize. Glad you’re not buying into the ritzy Israel against poor Palestine image. You’re all about nuance. Rare, valuable perspective. Keep it up.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Average American

      Sorry R5, I see what you meant now. But a junta would actually make perfect sense. Israel is practically in civil war with itself, the two-state solution will never happen, Arab population will grow, how else to maintain Jewish control? And who better to apply martial law to the entire country than the generals? It’s just a small nudge from the militarization we see today, and people (Jews) are living fine under it in the West Bank today. That’s one scenario. If as you meant the generals enter existing politics, I think their biggest challenge would not be Bibi but would be The Sanhedrin. Sanhedrin would have deep cultural roots and acceptance, would apply halacha law which probably would be more accepted (by Jews) than martial law, and could operate like the Catholic Church controlling generals and governments from the background. Interesting.

      Reply to Comment