The first Israeli missile sped down to its target, scorching the Gazan earth and everything in between. Palestinians collected the body parts of two new martyrs, while Israeli media celebrated the demise of two terrorists. Zuhair Qasis was the head of the Popular Resistance Committee (PRC). He was killed alongside a Palestinian prisoner from Nablus, who had recently been freed and deported to Gaza.
Then, another set of missiles rained down, this time taking Obeid al-Ghirbali and Muhammad Harara. Then, a third, and a forth, and so on. The death count began on March 9 and escalated through the day. The Hamas government urged the international community to take action. Factions vowed to retaliate.
In these situations, Western media is usually clueless or complicit. Sometimes it’s both. The Israeli army was cited readily by many media outlets without challenge.
The first round of attacks was justified based on a claim that Qasis was involved in the planning of an attack that killed seven Israelis last year. The Israeli army didn’t even bother to upgrade that claim -- which already resulted in the killing and wounding of many Palestinians. Even Israeli media had drawn the conclusion that the attack then originated from Egypt, and no Palestinian was involved.
Al Jazeera reported that some of the victims were decapitated, a familiar scene in most of Israel’s unforgiving atrocities.
Expectedly, Palestinians fired back. “The national resistance brigades, the DFLP’s armed wing, the Al-Aqsa brigades, and the armed wing of the PRC, the An-Nasser Salah Ad-Din brigades, have all claimed responsibility for rocket fire,” reported the Maan news agency.
The incessant Israeli provocations would not have been enough to end the months-long truce. Palestinians know that Israeli provocations are often, if not always, politically motivated. This time, however, the people killed were leaders in al-Muqawama, the local resistance parties. Neither Hamas might nor diplomacy could persuade Gaza’s many factions to hold their fire. Israel knows this fact more than any other party. This is why it sent such unmistakably bloody messages. Israel needed Palestinians to respond, and urgently so.
But why did Israel decide to ignite trouble again?
To answer the question, one needs to make a quick stop in Washington. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had recently tried to articulate a case for war against Iran there. Unlike the successful effort to isolate and strike and invade Iraq in 2003, the Iran war campaign is not going according to plan.
The Israelis are desperate to see Iran’s nuclear facilities bombed by American bunker buster bombs -- some of which weigh up to 13,600 kilograms. Israel’s former head of military intelligence, Amos Yadlin, assured the “free world” -- a term often manipulated by Netanyahu -- that a bombing campaign can succeed if it’s followed by the right measures. “Iran, like Iraq and Syria before it, will have to recognize that the precedent for military action has been set, and can be repeated,” he wrote (as cited in CNN, March 9).
There is growing consensus in Israel that “something has to be done” -- at least to set back Iran’s uranium enrichment by a few years, per the assurances of the deputy director of the Israeli Institute for National Security Studies, Ephraim Kam. Republican candidates in the US, and even President Barack Obama himself, agree. But Obama, despite his groveling at the recent AIPAC conference, dared to question the timing and the way in which Iran must be brought to its knees. The US president is becoming increasingly isolated within Washington because of his stance on Iran.
It is election year, and Israel knows that a window of opportunity will not be open for long. “Netanyahu won a crucial battle in Washington this past week. No one brought up the Palestinians. Netanyahu has quite masterfully shifted the conversation to the subject of Iran,” wrote Jeffrey Goldberg in the Atlantic (March 9). He is right, of course, but only within the context of a “peace process” and conflict resolution.
The Palestinians were mentioned in a different context, and repeatedly so. Kam, for example, expected that thousands of rockets would rain on Israel from Hezbollah, Hamas and Iran itself. The Associated Press quoted Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor as saying: “The whole of Israel [is vulnerable to] tens of thousands of missiles and rockets from neighboring countries. If there is a war…they are not just going to hit Israeli soldiers. The main aim is at civilian populations.” (Feb. 20)
Per this logic, the only way to prevent rockets from reaching Israel is by attacking Iran. An independent Israeli commentator, Yossi Melman predicted that a weakened Iran “would undoubtedly have an impact on Hamas and Hezbollah.” (CNN, March 9)
Yes, the Palestinians were infused plenty in Israeli war rhetoric. They were liberally presented as the jackals who would pounce on vulnerable Israel. Who would dare challenge this tired victimization narrative? Who would have the audacity to point out the fact that Israel has the region’s strongest army, equipped with hundreds of fully functioning nuclear warheads, while Palestinians fighters -- who had until recently respected the truce, although Gaza’s siege was never lifted -- are armed with light weapons?
No one in the mainstream media, of course. But then, as the supposed threat has reached an all-time high, Hamas spokesperson in Gaza Fawzi Barhoum told AP: “Hamas weapons and the weapons of the Palestinian resistance, in general, are humble weapons that aim to defend and not to attack, and they are to defend the Palestinian people…that does not give us the ability to be part of any regional war.”
Hamas has its own calculations independent of Israel’s war momentum. But losing Hamas would jeopardize the very equation Israel has been constructing for years. The “radical camp” must remain intact, as far as Israel is concerned. No political polarization caused by the so-called Arab Spring will be allowed to endanger the Israeli narrative: the radicals, the evil alliance, the threat facing the “free world” and all the rest. Great resources were spent on spinning the perfect story to justify a pre-emptive war.
Then, on Friday, March 2, less than two days after Barhoum made his comments of “humble weapons,” heads began to roll in Gaza. Literally. And the media machine resumed its work unabashed. “Gaza rocket fire disrupts life in Israeli south,” read a headline in Israel’s Haaretz. “IDF strikes Gaza terror targets following rocket barrage,” declared another in the Jerusalem Post. It’s war all over again. Israeli civilians run to shelters. Sirens blare. US media reports the fate of “besieged” Israelis and Palestinian “terrorists.”
It matters little to them that it was Israel itself that stirred up the trouble, broke the truce and fanned the flames.
*Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an internationally syndicated columnist and the editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is “My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story” (Pluto Press, London).