Israel’s latest assault on the Palestinian people is driven by its need to prove itself to its most powerful ally and by the growing instability caused by the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan, writes Joseph Choonara
Israel carefully planned its latest butchery in Gaza. Defence minister Ehud Barak asked the military to prepare an assault over six months ago – even as a “truce” with Hamas was being negotiated – according to Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
The recent assault was pre-meditated murder, not a response to Hamas’s rocket attacks as Israel’s supporters claim.
The F-16 fighter jets used to bomb Gaza were paid for by a US government that intends to hand Israel an average of $3 billion a year in military aid for the next decade.
One of the world’s most modern war machines – armed with tanks, helicopter gunships, warplanes and even nuclear warheads – is being mobilised against a population that Israel has sought to drive back into medieval conditions.
Gaza’s 1.5 million people are crammed into a tiny strip of land. Half of the population are children and half of these already suffer from “post-traumatic stress disorder”. Israel’s economic strangulation of Gaza since June 2007 has shut down 95 percent of industry and left more than three quarters of its population dependent on humanitarian aid for their survival.
Egypt – the second largest recipient of US military aid in the Middle East – has colluded in this by sealing the only border that is not shared with Israel.
And when Gaza’s population – starved, imprisoned and bereaved – dares to resist, using the only weapons available to them, this becomes a pretext for yet more slaughter by the Israeli state.
As the bombing began, one Israeli Defence Force officer boasted that his army would create the “maximum number” of casualties and that he would “send Gaza decades into the past”. Another threatened to punish not just Hamas but also “the civilians that are enabling them to fire and hide”.
Some world leaders, including Gordon Brown, have responded to Israel’s violence with calls for a ceasefire. In doing so they portray the conflict as a battle of two equals – rather than a murderous assault by the US’s main ally in the Middle East.
We have already seen what a “ceasefire” means to Israel. It used the last official six-month “ceasefire” with Hamas to prepare further military action and to tighten its blockade on Gaza.
And rather than observing the “ceasefire”, Israel launched repeated raids that killed dozens of Palestinians – far greater numbers than the Israelis killed by rocket attacks in recent years.
Israel’s welfare minister Isaac Herzog said this week, “A humanitarian truce... does not contradict preparations for a military operation.”
Why is this assault taking place now?
One factor in the timing of the attack is the Israeli election planned for February. Outgoing prime minister Ehud Olmert and his Kadima party’s candidate, current foreign minister Tzipi Livni, needed to bolster their flagging popularity.
This dovetailed with two more longstanding ambitions. The first is to shake off the humiliation Israel’s army faced at the hands of the Hizbollah resistance movement during its 2006 invasion of Lebanon and prove it could still serve the interests of the US in the region.
The second was to impose its dominance over the Palestinians – and the wider region – by overthrowing the democratically elected Hamas administration in Gaza (see » The changing face of the Palestinian resistance).
Some in Israel may also have feared that the election of Barack Obama would mark a turning point in relations with the US and wanted to act before his inauguration. But the solidarity Obama’s advisors have extended to Israel instead suggests considerable continuity with George Bush’s administration on this issue – and will trouble those in the US who voted for “change”.
The root causes of the massacre in Gaza extend beyond the machinations of Israeli politicians.
The aggression stems in part from the nature of Israel – a racist state founded on the mass expulsion of the Palestinians and intrinsically bound to US imperialism in the Middle East.
But it is the US-led “war on terror” that has created the context and terrain for the latest assault. The horror unleashed by Bush’s wars on Afghanistan and Iraq, backed by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, gave a green light to other states to launch their own versions – from Georgia’s disastrous assault on South Ossetia and Ethiopia’s invasion of Somalia to Israel’s earlier attack on Lebanon.
US support for Israel today is part of a continuing desire to dominate the Middle East. The setbacks faced by the US in both Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as its inability to contain Iran, all make it more likely to back Israel.
Regime change in Gaza would show that both Israel and the US still have the power to bully and subdue weaker governments in the region. This is clearly intended as a warning to Syria and Iran. Indeed, the Israeli government has repeatedly claimed that Hamas is a proxy for Iran.
More instability lies ahead. The growing economic catastrophe is heightening the tensions in the capitalist system. States will seek to shift the burden of the crisis on to each other, clashing as they try to improve their position at the expense of their rivals.
The one uniting this band of warring brothers is their desire to ensure that the weakest pay for the crisis.
Our rulers’ assault has two faces. One is military – including the massacre in Gaza. The other is economic – lingering death by starvation and disease for millions, and increased suffering and impoverishment for billions more.
Socialists will be at the heart of efforts to draw together resistance to these attacks and turning it into a challenge to their barbaric system.