As Israeli airstrikes and artillery shelling continue to pound the Gaza Strip, sending clouds of black smoke billowing into the skies throughout the coastal enclave, and Hamas rockets continue to rain down on Israeli towns and cities, an intense international diplomatic push is working to broker a cease-fire after 10 days of bloodshed.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told some 70 foreign diplomats at a briefing on Wednesday that the bombing campaign aims to deter Hamas from attacking Israel. He hinted that if such deterrence is not achieved, Israeli forces might “conquer” the Gaza Strip.
“There are only two ways that you can deal with them,” he told the diplomats at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv. “You can either conquer them, and that’s always an open possibility, or you can deter them, and we are engaged right now in forceful deterrence, but I have to say we don’t rule out anything.”
US President Joe Biden and Netanyahu, in a phone call on Wednesday, “had a detailed discussion on the state of events in Gaza, Israel’s progress in degrading the capabilities of Hamas and other terrorist elements, and ongoing diplomatic efforts by regional governments and the United States,” according to a readout from the White House.
Biden told Netanyahu he “expected a significant de-escalation today on the path to a cease-fire.” It was the fourth call between Biden and Netanyahu this week.
Yoni Ben-Menachem, a senior researcher at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, told The Media Line Netanyahu wants to justify Israel’s continued military offensive against Gaza.
“Netanyahu is making political propaganda for Israel directed to world opinion, in view of the international criticism taking place,” Ben-Menachem said.
Netanyahu said Israel’s bombardment of the impoverished Strip had set Hamas, the Islamist group that governs Gaza, back “many years” since it began on May 10 in response to Hamas’ rocket fire.
The prime minister made his position clear, saying Israel’s bombardment would not stop before achieving its goals.
Ben-Menachem said Netanyahu wants to break Hamas’ higher echelon.
“The achievements would be the elimination of the top-level military leaders from Hamas, headed by Mohammed Deif, Yahya Sinwar and Marwan Issa. And the destruction of Hamas’ military infrastructure,” the researcher said.
After each of the previous three wars between Israel and Gaza − in 2008-2009, 2012 and 2014 − Israeli officials claimed they had destroyed Hamas’ combat capabilities and its ability to manufacture rockets, but time after time Hamas proved them wrong. The movement surprised everyone by not only managing to recover but also by upgrading its military strength.
“Certainly after this blow, they have been weakened, but before they were improving from one round to the next because Israel did not want to carry out a ground incursion that would lead to a great loss in the ranks of its soldiers,” said Ben-Menachem.
Netanyahu linked the escalation in violence to a decision by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to postpone Palestinian elections that had been scheduled for this weekend.
Ben-Menachem blames Abbas for his political weakness and the rising popularity of Hamas, not the current war.
“Abu Mazen [Abbas] is weak and no one supports him, not the Arab world and not the Palestinian street.”
Ben-Menachem adds that Abbas caused the current situation.
“The reason is his call last January of Palestinian elections, despite warnings from Israel, the United States, Jordan and Egypt. They all agreed that the time was not right for elections because Hamas is strong, and he will lose. But his stubbornness is the reason for what is happening,” the analyst said. “When the elections were canceled, Hamas felt that it had been robbed of an election victory.”
Amjad Shihab, a Palestinian political analyst at Al-Quds University, told The Media Line that Netanyahu is “trying to whitewash Israel crimes in Gaza by putting on a show.
“While he meets with ambassadors, he is bombing civilians and targeting civilian installations such as water, electricity and medical centers. Where are the military sites? Who is he kidding?” Shihab asked sarcastically, adding, “The Israeli army is besieging the Gaza Strip from all sides, and there is no equality between the fourth-strongest country militarily and the Palestinian factions in Gaza.”
He criticized the international community’s “deafening silence” toward Israel’s military campaign.
“Shameful international silence. This is the same silence that the world practiced toward the Nazis when they attacked the Jews, as the world did not support the victim at that time. The global system needs to be restructured to protect the vulnerable,” Shihab said.
At least 245 Palestinians have been killed, including 68 children and 37 women, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry.
Palestinian rocket fire has killed 12 people in Israel, police said.
Nearly 450 buildings in densely populated Gaza have been destroyed or badly damaged, including six hospitals and nine primary-care health centers, and more than 52,000 Palestinians have been displaced, the UN humanitarian agency said.
The ongoing hostilities between Hamas and Israel are also complicating the Palestinian political scene. Clashes have erupted in several cities and towns throughout the West Bank, risking the destabilization of Abbas’ rule.
“In the absence of a clear victory for Israel,” Shihab says, “Netanyahu is not comfortable ending the military offensive in Gaza despite the high civilian casualties. But the increasing international pressure and horrible scenes coming out of Gaza, [and] add to that the increasing tension in the West Bank, all have made the environment explosive amid fear of loss of control.”
Shihab argues that Palestinians now see Hamas as the one faction standing up to Israel and defending the Palestinians in east Jerusalem, and al-Aqsa Mosque.
“Abbas was weakened by the Israelis, led by Netanyahu, who marginalized him through the policy of continuing settlements expansion and the continued attacks on holy sites in the city,” he said.
For years, Shihab said, Hamas was the target of Israel and of several Arab governments, but their efforts failed.
“Israel, along with Arab states, tried to demonize Hamas for 15 years, and in just one week, [Israel has] made it a warm home for all Palestinians,” he said.
“The PA is a corrupt system; it is a burden on the Palestinian people and one of the obstacles to its liberation. It should be dissolved,” Shihab said.
A UN Security Council meeting broke up without issuing a statement late Tuesday, but France then said it had proposed a resolution calling for a cease-fire, in coordination with Israel’s neighbors Egypt and Jordan.
Egypt and UN mediators also stepped up diplomatic efforts, and the UN General Assembly will discuss the violence on Thursday.