A rapid escalation of both tensions and violence has been underway since Hamas military chief Ahmed Jabari was killed Wednesday, November 14th in an Israeli missile strike. Israeli spokeswoman Avital Leibovich accused the firing of over 100 rockets into Israel in the week preceding the assassination as justification for the attack, claiming Jabari had “a lot of Israeli blood on his hands.” Later Wednesday, Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) tweeted that “The IDF has embarked on Operation Pillar of Defense.”
Operation Pillar of Defense and the militant Hamas response to Jabari’s death have resulted in sustained rocket, missile, and drone attacks from both sides. Hamas stepped up its rocket attacks in response to the assassination, with Israeli reports of 66 rocket attacks on Israeli soil and an additional 99 stopped by the Iron Dome missile defense program Friday alone. On Friday, rockets landed in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, hitting the holy city for the first time since 1970, and Tel Aviv for the first time since the 1991 Gulf War. Although no deaths were reported as a result of these two attacks, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak received government approval to mobilize up to 75,000 reserve troops for Israel’s Gaza campaign.
This mobilization is extremely worrisome, especially considering the failed attempts by diplomats from the UN, Palestine, and Egypt to broker a ceasefire. Palestinian and Egyptian representatives have condemned Israeli aggression in Gaza, while the UN and United States recognized Israeli’s claimed right to defend, as Netanyahu tweeted, “The world must understand that Israel has the right and a total obligation to defend its citizens.” EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said, “Israel has the right to protect its population from these kind of attacks. I urge Israel to ensure that its response is proportionate.” However, military conflict has historically been largely disproportionate. The IDF’s last ground invasion into Gaza, in 2009, resulted in the deaths of 1,400 mostly Palestinian civilians compared with only 13 Israelis.
Tensions are rising towards levels not seen in years. With one ceasefire already ignored, calls for peace from international organizations unanswered, and the Israeli government apparently preparing for the accepted possibility of an invasion of Gaza, the potential for an escalation to full war is definitely on the table. Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States stated that the Israeli government could not continue its “superhuman restraint” as attacks persisted. Oren declared, “Right now it’s an armed conflict,” and “we hope it doesn’t become a war.”
The fallout from a war would be disastrous. As Tony Blair, envoy for the Middle East Quartet, pointed out, “I don’t think we should be of any doubt at all that if this situation continues and it escalates, it’s going to be really serious and tragic — not just for Israelis and Palestinians, but actually it will cause a huge amount of upheaval right across the region, and this is a region, as you know, that doesn’t require more upheaval right now.” If a third party can take hold and a sustain a ceasefire, there is hope for de-escalation, however the trend and environment of the past several days provide a bleak outlook.
– Ari Salas
(Featured photo: Marsmet543, Creative Commons, Flickr)