By Amb Anil Trigunayat
It is a fact of history that the Balfour Declaration of 1917 or the Franco-British Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 and the Zionist Congress of 1897 and declaration of the State of Israel in 1948 or for that matter the UNGA Resolutions 181&194 (1947) and 273 of 1949 established the foundations of the modern Jewish state of Israel. It was hastened by the atrocities and genocide of Hitler against the Jews. Rancour in the Middle-East was blessed by the colonial mischief like anywhere else.
History can arguably prove the antecedents as to whether Palestine existed before, or Jews can prove their ancestry to the holy land going by couple of thousand years even before them. But living down the history lanes and indulging in permanent hostility in modern times will not lead to peace for which umpteen efforts have been made and ironically several wars have been fought.
But in all the 20th century wars between Israel and the Arabs, Tel Aviv was decisively able to gain military advantage and even more land especially in the West Bank and Gaza etc.
Peace without an equitable solution is not possible for which umpteen number of UN Resolutions and Arab Peace Plans have tried to provide some framework for a two-state solution so that two sovereigns could live in peace side by side.
But conflicts have been escalated and become more virulent in the past decade especially between Israel and Hamas—that has not only pledged to extract the Palestinian state but through an armed struggle and by decimating and destroying the Jewish state.
2014 was a major war but the most recent 11-days escalation arguably had other causes and specifics too which exploited the age-old mistrust to achieve their hidden political objectives.
Evictions of Palestinians from Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan provided a perfect backdrop and a trigger when the tensions rose between nearly 10,000 Muslim worshippers at Al Aqsa and the Israeli Police which is prone to using stun grenades and rubber bullets to contain the crowds. Hence, injuries were normal and so was further escalation.
The militant wing of Hamas, Al Qassam brigades, published a statement (on May 10) warning the Israelis to vacate the Al Aqsa premises and release the arrested Palestinians by 6 PM on the failing of which they fired 200 rockets on southern Israel.
They were not naïve as Hamas knew rather well the outcome of the escalation of the conflict.
Israel retaliated with precision and all its might maintaining that, if needed, the land invasion of the Gaza strip will follow. Over 250 Palestinians including children died and thousands were injured, and destruction followed as in the region none can match the Israeli war machine.
According to the FDD War Journal, some 17 Palestinian militant groups including Al Qassam Brigades and Palestine Islamic Jihad’s Saraya-al Quds tried to organise a unified and joint operation and actively participated in the 11-days war, shooting nearly 4,000 rockets, killing 12 Israelis and injuring many.
Drones were also used. One Indian caregiver was also killed by a rocket from Gaza. Some pro-Iranian militant groups including Hezbollah tried to distract the IDF by firing some rockets from Syria and Lebanon.
One of the objectives of Israel was to force Iran into action so that the USA was constrained from negotiating and return to the JCPOA and Vienna Talks
One of the objectives of Israel was to force Iran into action so that the USA was constrained from negotiating and return to the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) and Vienna Talks. But in every conflict, Hamas’ fire power seems to enhance and surprise the IDF. But for the Iron Dome, they could have inflicted much greater damage on the Jewish state.
As per reports, the war was also marked by use and display of advanced technologies especially digital and Artificial intelligence. ‘The Jerusalem Post’ claimed that Israel’s operation against Hamas was the world’s first AI war when the IDF used artificial intelligence and supercomputing, that became a force multiplier for the IDF, which had developed a centralised data on all terrorist groups in Gaza strip.
AI technological platforms also helped take down the target groups through super cognition technologies that shortened the length of war. As for Gaza, while reconstruction has been committed by regional and international players, reports indicate that Hamas has been receiving a lot of funding through crypto currency and witnessed a surge in bit-coin donations circumventing international sanctions.
The relentless severity of the war can arguably be attributed to political opportunism this time which differentiates it from other previous escalations.
Benjamin Netanyahu after the 4th election in two years was unable to stitch a Right and extreme Right-wing alliance within the given time-limit, hence his centrist rival Yair Lapid of the Yesh Atid Party, was tasked to form the government within 28 days.
In a fractious polity with a mercurial Netanyahu—a master manipulator and strategist and a survivor who is facing corruption charges—it is not easy to club together diverse political parties. Hence, he got an opportunity to prove to Israelis that only under his decisive leadership can the country be secure and safe and overwhelming response to the Hamas adventurism was a must.
In the early days Netanyahu claimed to have killed some top Hamas commanders and refused to give in even to his American benefactors—forget the emaciated UNSC and international community—to agree to a ceasefire until he had achieved his objectives.
No doubt the political image of Netanyahu as a strong leader had been burnished yet again by this adventure that caused tremendous civil strife. He would have gained a few more percentage points if the elections were to be held for a 5th time. But it also reinforced the resolve of the opposition to try harder to get together to make sure that Netanyahu does not come out winner. Hence, a motley spectrum of eight parties, from the ultra-nationalists to the Right, Centre and Left, with a single anti-Netanyahu agenda, is hoping to prove their majority in the Knesset as each one plays the Rubik’s cube.
Naftali Bennet of the Yamina Party with a mere seven seats in a 120-member Knesset will lead the coalition of change for the first two years followed by Lapid if the coalition lasts that long. Arab Ra’am Party is participating the first time ever in the government which is called “Coalition for Change”.
Netanyahu has called it the biggest fraud of the century and urged all rightist parties and religious groups to oppose this inside the parliament and outside. Some even feared that he might indulge in reckless adventurism against the Iranians (the biggest benefactors of Hamas) so as to deter any normalisation and the US’ return to the JCPOA for which the Biden Administration is trying hard.
Although Bibi claimed “We will be back”, for the time being he will sit in the opposition until he is able to swing a few disgruntled votes from Lapid to his side.
One does not expect much change in policies domestic or foreign since the challenges remain the same. This has been amply clear from the ensuing events. It is more of the same, perhaps a bit moderated for public consumption and political expediency.
As for Hamas, it was an opportunity to score a march over the Fatah party and the Palestinian Authority led by President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah and West Bank by projecting and securing an image of saviours of the Palestinian cause.
After 15 years since 2006, an agreement was reached between Fatah and Hamas to hold elections in May and hopefully form a participative government. Ageing President Abbas has been losing steam and popular support while splinter groups and politicians supported by several regional powers are gaining salience. This has made Abbas more anxious.
Abbas was helped by the Israelis by not giving permission to conduct elections in West Bank and East Jerusalem. He cancelled the elections—the only hope for a united front to fight the Palestinian cause. If Hamas eventually wins the elections, the international community especially Israel and the West would have to recalibrate their policies since it was declared a terrorist group by them. Hamas will also have to recognise Israel and abdicate violence as a means to achieve their ends.
Yet another dimension of the recent conflict was that not only the Arab street elsewhere was charged up, but the war took place in the background of the Arab-Israeli rapprochement by way of the Abraham Accords.
Israeli retaliation and excessive civilian strife as well as bombing of the media buildings forced Arab governments to condemn and be vocal against the Israeli actions to assuage the sentiment of their people. The Palestinian cause and their plight became the focus yet again.
Even Americans under Biden were reluctant to get involved being preoccupied with the domestic issues and China and Russia. But due to international uproar the Biden & Blinken team had to pressure Netanyahu to press the de-escalation button and agree to unconditional ceasefire. No wonder the new foreign minister Yair Lapid rushed to the UAE to assuage their concerns while opening the new Israeli embassy and consulate.
Moreover, it was probably the first time in decades that the Israeli Arabs came out in the streets in favour of Palestinians and continuing riots were witnessed. About 20 percent of the Israeli population are Arabs, who can’t be ignored. It is also for the first time that the United Arab List political party (Ra’am) has agreed to support the anti-Netanyahu coalition or for that matter any political party in the hope of getting some of their demands met for the benefit of Palestinians. In a way they are taking the credit of being a ‘king maker’ if indeed Yair Lapid can coast through in forming a government of change.
The ensuing political dynamic, within Israel and Palestine and strategic calculations and compulsions of the regional actors despite an unwilling leader in USA, might portend some hope for the hapless Palestinians.
The security of Israel can be ensured only through a long-awaited peace dialogue. Otherwise, it will have to as always invoke its “right to defend’ and face the international community and courts charging Tel Aviv of excessive use of force and war crimes against the Palestinians.
-The writer is a former Indian Ambassador to Jordan, Libya and Malta and is a leading commentator on West Asian and foreign policy issues. The views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of Raksha Anirveda