Saturday, March 26, 2011

Gaza escalation-2: Embarking on the Dance of Fire

How exactly did the escalation start? Even though it happened only last week, it is by no means clear exactly how it started. Commentators argue about who was the first to shoot and who responded, and why, and just who wanted it (if at all anyone really wanted it, on either side of the border).

Alex Fishman, military commentator for Yediot Ahronot, who disposes of very good sources within the army, wrote a week ago a detailed and rather critical description under the headline "You told us to shoot – we shoot":

"It began accidentally, with a miscalculation, an excessive reaction to the shooting of a Qassam missile, which threatens to develop into a new comprehensive conflict. Now both sides already start pasting unto this chain of events their whole series of weighty political and security arguments. Both sides heat themselves up and lead Gaza towards an uncontrolled explosion. The army has in store a whole armory of retaliations to retaliations to retaliations and so on. (...)

The aggressive message sent down from the cabinet was well absorbed in the army – from now on, there should be a smashing response to each event. After a Qassam missile fired by an ephemeral group landed in an open field , the IDF struck at Netzarim, killing two Hamas militants, one of them apparently a senior member. Someone in the Southern Command went a step too far in translating the instructions of the political leadership - . - "You told us to shoot – we shoot".(...)

The army was waiting for a response, and hoping that also this time it will be limited to the shooting of some anti-tank missile. On Friday, the IDF was on alert because of the fog that prevailed in the area. Then, Hamas and Jihad opened up with 120mm mortars, aimed at six locations within Israel - with an emphasis on military camps. The IDF responded by firing rockets, mortars and tank guns at predetermined targets. At noon, when the fog dispersed, assault helicopters also went into action. The Dance of Fire started."

So wrote Alex Fishman on the pages of Yediot Ahronot last Sunday (March 20). On the following days, the Dance of Fire spun faster and faster, and the missiles fell at Be'er Sheva and Ashdod, and the pupils stayed home in fear for their lives in un-fortified shool buildings. Politicians competed with each other in crying out for war and war and war to the bitter end. In the Sajaya neighborhood of Gaza, four members of the Hilo Family were killed when an Israeli shell landed on their house by mistake. Sure, it was an unfortunate mistake by the army. As they explained, they had used an inaccurate mortar system because at that moment the more accurate system was not available. And the Government of Israel was quick to express its regret about the harm to innocents, but its expressions of sorrow were not really well received in Gaza where TV repeatedly broadcasted photos of the body of the 11-year-old Mohammed Jihad Al-Hilo who was killed by the shell. And the next day a bomb exploded on a crowded street in Jerusalem, killing a Christian British woman who came to Jerusalem to learn Hebrew so as to better translate the Bible to an African tongue, and some thirty-passers-by were wounded, some of whom would bear the scars long after we have all forgotten this incident. And banner headlines in Israel's newspapers said that Terrorism had come baack after a long absence, and horrible scenes were depicted on huge photographs of the scene of the attack, and politicians outdid themselves in competing with each other to make cries of war and war and war to the bitter end. And the army went on to kill more Palestinians in Gaza, and since these were confirmed as having been terrorists the government expressed no regret for killing them and in fact took some pride in it.

And in Yediot Aharonot, Alex Fishman played a quite different tune from that in his own article earlier in the week: "The army is pushing for an escalation. In a policy briefing held yesterday morning with the Prime Minister, the army manifested a very combative attitude. As the army sees it, an all-out confrontation with the Hamas government at Gaza is almost preordained. If not now, it will happen in another year or two. Unless we act today, we will pay the price for going gradually into the escalation. Israel, says the army, should restore its deterrence, which has been eroded since the days of "Cast Lead". We should have struck hard at Hamas already a month ago, when the Grad rocket came down on Beersheba for the first time. Now the blow must be even more painful. If not an overwhelming military strike, or a partial ground operation, the obvious next step on the scale of violence should be a return to the era of targeted killing of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaderships. In the IDF's view, this would be the most effective move, speaking the language which the Palestinian leadership understands best. "

So spoke – as of Wednesday, March 23 - Alex Fishman, the man who already for many years serves as an unofficial army spokesman.

"In the IDF's view, this would be the most effective move, speaking the language which the Palestinian leadership understands best." The problem is that this language was spoken quite often before, and where did it lead us?