Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has an election around the corner and will be looking to prove to his opponents that he can 'handle' Hamas and the situation in Gaza.
With two weeks left until the general elections, Israel’s military offensive on Gaza seems to have started. A series of air strikes have been carried out throughout Gaza damaging houses and public property in Gaza.
Around seven Palestinian civilians have been wounded in Israeli strikes.
The latest military escalation comes in response to what Israeli army officials say was a long-range rocket fired from southern Gaza that landed on a house in Tel Aviv, wounding 7 Israelis from the same family.
Palestinian resistance groups, namely Hamas, retaliated by firing a barrage of home-made rockets and projectiles at Israeli targets.
The rocket was the third in ten days fired from Gaza that hit Tel Aviv, two cities located along the Mediterranean, some 93 kilometres apart.
Following the dramatic move, reserves were called, and reinforcements were sent to the Gaza border, deploying at least two infantry and armoured brigades.
The deployment included setting up more “Iron Dome” missile Defence systems in different cities to intercept Palestinian projectiles. Bomb shelters were opened across the country.
The belligerent rhetoric among Israeli officials especially those who oppose Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu became louder, with some war hawks calling for powerful retaliation while some accused Netanyahu of submitting to Hamas rockets.
Netanyahu is under extreme pressure to respond with full force and regain the so-called “power of deference”. He has accumulated too many unfulfilled promises of crushing Palestinian resistance groups, mainly Hamas.
The incident caught Israel by surprise and caused panic among Israeli officials, particularly to Netanyahu himself, who cut short his visit to Washington where he met Trump. It’s clear that the rocket spoiled his visit after received a gift from US President Donald Trump; recognising Israel’s 'sovereignty' over the occupied Syrian Golan Heights.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued a statement saying he was "gravely concerned" by the recent developments in Israel and the Gaza Strip and urged all sides to exercise maximum restraint.
Who was behind the rockets and why?
The launching of the long-range rocket came shortly after Israeli special units stormed Ketziot Prison in the Negev to contain a riot following Israel's decision to jam the signals of cell phones smuggled into its jails.
Islamic Jihad had announced that "Israel's crimes against the (security) prisoners would change the situation,” but it is not confirmed who fired the rocket or whether it was in response to the attacks on Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails.
Ten days ago, two long-range rockets were also fired from Gaza into Tel Aviv, the first time in four years since the last war on Gaza in 2014. Israel’s response was limited by striking 100 targets and avoiding a military ground incursion.
Four hours after the flare-up, Hamas sources announced that a ceasefire was reached through Egyptian mediation, while Israel denied it. The announcement sent conflicting reports, but Israel’s ongoing air strikes made it clear that no genuine ceasefire was reached. Even if it did, then it would be fragile and one that does not address the real issues leading to frequent military escalation.
It’s clear that any significant escalation generally benefits the Israeli right.
The latest escalation also comes just days before the March 30th protest, marking one year since the start of the “Great March of Return” - a reminder of the grim and harsh living conditions in Gaza, where two-thirds of its residents are descendants of refugees, many of whom rely on food handouts from UNRWA, due to Israel’s ongoing 12-year blockade and economic embargo.
The Great March of Return was initiated in the wake of US president Donald Trumps’ decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Breaking the isolation and lifting the siege is another goal of the march.
No one can say how long the escalation will last and whether Palestinians will mark the first anniversary of the march. What is agreed upon by ordinary Palestinian Gazans is that they have had enough from the Israeli occupation, the siege, as well as the Fatah-Hamas divide which have all had disastrous consequences for ordinary Palestinians.
What if Israel expands its onslaught?
First, in light of this escalation, both rival factions (Palestinian Authority and Hamas) have to unite and put their differences aside, because any large scale military offensive would be against the Palestinians of Gaza and not Hamas alone. Besides, the PA has no diplomatic relations with the US as peace talks, and the peace process is frozen.
Second, Arab countries need to take action and practical steps to contain the tensions instead of offering empty condemnations without action.
Third, the UN should play a major role, despite the fact that the majority of Palestinians believe the UN is powerless in the face of the ironclad US-Israeli relationship - especially under the Trump administration.
Security flare-ups, especially those relating to Gaza benefit the Israeli right. Netanyahu, who is currently the second longest-serving prime minister in Israel's history after David Ben-Gurion, has to prove to his opponents, and his main rival, Benny Gantz, that he is capable of handling the situation.
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