Israel’s senior officials have been hurling threats at the Gaza Strip and Palestinian resistance groups for months now. Whether security-related or linked to political events and Israeli elections, the recent threats are more numerous and come from politicians and security officers. In a changing environment filled with US-led normalisation efforts and absolute support from Washington, as well as European disappointment, the threats are very real.
Has a war against Gaza become a prerequisite for passing Trump’s deal of the century, or is it simply a threat to deter the Palestinian resistance in Gaza from any escalation before next month’s Israeli General Election? The Israeli threats mirror those prior to Operation Defensive Shield carried out by Ariel Sharon in the occupied West Bank in 2002, when the Israeli army was more or less given a free hand against the Palestinians. The same strategy was tried against Gaza in 2009 but failed. Will it actually happen this time with no opposition from “normalisation” Arab states and a very right-wing US administration?
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the leader of the Blue and White opposition bloc, Benny Gantz, current Defence Minister Naftali Bennett and Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi all suggest that it might. Deputy Minister of Defence Avi Dichter has warned that, “Israel will have to prepare for a long and heavy military campaign in Gaza” and that, “Gaza will go through a similar process” to that which the West Bank went through in 2002. “Hamas and Jihad terror infrastructures will be destroyed, there is no other option,” added Dichter. “Israel cannot tolerate a terrorist entity that threatens its citizens and holds the ability to disrupt their lives.”
The most recent veiled threat was revealed by leaks in the Israeli media that an Egyptian intelligence delegation which visited the Gaza Strip recently persuaded the Israelis not to assassinate senior Hamas officials Yahya Sinwar and Marwan Issa. Both are held responsible by Israel for the latest escalation in the besieged territory. Whether as part of election campaigning, or messages from non-elected officials, the threat of another military offensive against Gaza after the March election in Israel should be taken seriously.
The Israelis know that there are some frantic normalisation efforts taking place in the Arab and Muslim world, and are investing in what remains of Trump’s time in the White House before the US election in November in order to pass the deal of the century and liquidate the Palestinian cause.
Those following events in the Gaza Strip find conflicting motives behind the threats. They sometimes represent the frustration of Israeli leaders at their inability to stop rocket attacks and explosive balloons despite the assassination of the Islamic Jihad leader Baha Abu Al-Atta last year.
Another attack on the Gaza Strip is an undertaking that Israel can afford to carry out in order to encourage the normalisers who are sceptical of Israel’s ability to defeat its opponents and become a genuine power in the region, as an exporter of energy to Europe and head of regional organisations. Israel needs a military victory to strengthen its position as an economic, security and military powerhouse. This will not be achieved as long as the Gaza Strip is a deadly thorn in the side of the Israeli “peace plan” to dominate the region by force.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Arabi21 on 20 February 2020
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.