Last week’s “under-the-radar” rocket attack on Ashkelon, Israel was the inevitable outcome of cumulative, distressing circumstances, foremost of which was the recent joint call by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal for a “peaceful Intifada.” Their promotion of a “popular resistance” manifested, initially, in mass protests in the West Bank, ostensibly against the detention of hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners in Israel, but quickly devolved into a series of clashes between IDF soldiers and Molotov cocktail- and rock-throwing Palestinians.
This “non-violence” intensified significantly after Arafat Jaradat, a Palestinian arrested during one of the demonstrations, died in Israeli custody. That Jaradat’s autopsy determined heart failure as the cause of death—and concluded that injuries to his torso resulted from attempts to resuscitate him—did not prevent the Palestinian leadership from disseminating conspiratorial claims that Jaradat had been tortured. This, in turn, stoked further unrest which, like all “peaceful” Palestinian initiatives, culminated with the firing of a rocket from Gaza into Israel, thus shattering the brief truce that ended Operation Pillar of Defense.
That the armed wing of Abbas’s Fatah party, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, claimed responsibility for the attack is unsurprising, given the terror group admitted to firing 516 rockets at Israeli civilian centers, in addition to perpetrating the Tel Aviv bus bombing, during November’s eight-day conflict. It is also unabashedly convenient, providing Hamas with plausible deniability even though rocket attacks from the Strip, if not perpetrated directly by Gaza’s rulers, must generally receive their pre-approval.
Accordingly, Israel could not be faulted for responding to the breach of the ceasefire either militarily, with airstrikes on the Strip, or diplomatically, by scaling back the concessions delineated in the agreement, which included easing a multitude of restrictions ranging from the flow of goods into Gaza to freedom of movement and even fishing. The Israeli government could also suspend the indirect negotiations with Hamas that have taken place intermittently in Cairo over the past few months.
Yet Israel will probably do nothing, effectively acquiescing to the terrorists’ strategy of extracting tangible concessions in exchange for ephemeral promises that are never kept. This distorted paradigm—whereby Israel gives and the Palestinians take—has defined the so-called peace process for two decades, and accounts for how the minimalist parameters of the pseudo-Palestinian state, originally envisioned in the Oslo Accords, have, over time, become so engorged as to now encompass all of the territories legally acquired by Israel in a defensive war in 1967, including half of Jerusalem. The perpetuation of this dysfunctional dynamic—spearheaded by the Arab-Islamic world and shamefully facilitated by the West—also explains the gradual acceptance as gospel of illusory Palestinian prerequisites for peace, such as the “right of return” and the “release of Palestinian prisoners,” which constitute the foremost obstacles to any negotiated settlement and which currently render the pursuit of any comprehensive peace deal futile.
The willful blindness of the international community to this patent reality is the by-product of its seemingly unconditional support of the allegedly oppressed Palestinians, and explains why Abbas conspired with Hamas to escalate tensions ahead of Barack Obama’s upcoming visit to Israel. As the Jerusalem Post’s editors pointed out, “Scenes of rioting in Palestinian towns across the West Bank on the eve of the US president’s arrival might push the Palestinian issue back on the top of the White House’s agenda for the region.” Specifically, from Abbas’s perspective, chaos in the West Bank provides Obama, who has adopted the Palestinian narrative laying claim to the territory, with the impetus, as well as greater leverage, to push for a resumption of negotiations by pressuring Israel into complying with the PA’s demands.
Indeed, Abbas has every reason to believe his strategy will work, given Obama’s one-sided handling of the peace process during his first term in office, and considering the US administration continues to draw a moral equivalence between Palestinian-initiated violence and Israelis attempting to quell the mayhem. In this respect, the US State Department responded in typical fashion to the “peaceful Intifada” by calling on both sides to “exercise maximum restraint,” which, in diplomatic-speak, constitutes a warning to Israel not to over-reach in defending itself. Notably absent was any US condemnation of the Gaza terror attack, which has contributed to the overall whitewashing of the event and thus its proper analysis.
Most conspicuously, the missile attack occurred exactly one day after Egypt, which mediated the ceasefire agreement on behalf of its Hamas offshoot, publicly condemned the Jewish state’s “inhuman practices.” Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed Amr went so far as to warn, seemingly prophetically, that Israel’s policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians would cause an explosion in the region; which, given the next day’s events, might, in hindsight, be regarded as an allusion to, or perhaps even a veiled call for, renewed rocket fire from Gaza.
Equally noteworthy is that the rocket attack transpired on the very same day that the P5+1 renewed nuclear negotiations with Iran, which just happens to be the largest supplier of missiles to Gaza-based terrorists. While it is impossible to determine with certainty whether Iran had advanced knowledge of, encouraged, or perhaps even had a direct hand in the attack, it is not unreasonable to postulate that the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, which has a strong foothold in Gaza, might have been sending a message of defiance to the international community. Lending further credence to Iran’s possible involvement are comments made last week by Abbas to Al-Arabiya television, in which he curiously invoked Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s support for the Palestinians’ Intifada, as well as Israeli media reports claiming the Iranian Revolutionary Guards had dispatched expert rocket makers to Gaza mere days before the attack.
Yet perhaps the most troubling potential contributory factor to the rocket attack remains the growing dysfunction of Israel’s political system, which for nearly six months has left the country without a sitting government to combat effectively threats of the forgoing nature. This situation, typified by the cynical political wrangling that has endured for more than five weeks since the January 22 election, has left the country fractured, thus weakened and vulnerable, at a time the region is teetering on the brink of a meltdown. The prevailing disunity, and resulting political inertia, amounts to nothing less than an open invitation for Israel’s enemies to attack.
In the end, however, the root cause of last week’s terror attack is of secondary import. Whether attributable to the world’s toleration of Palestinian intransigence, which invariably manifests in violence; the Islamization of Egypt, and the Muslim Brotherhood’s support for its terror proxy in Gaza; an emboldened Iran, striving virtually unimpeded towards nuclearization; or internal Israeli political bickering—or any combination of the above— what matters most is the inevitability of ongoing terrorism given the overarching regional circumstances; which, together, create a toxic environment conducive to such attacks.
Accordingly, Israel must, first and foremost, get its house in order promptly in order, thereby, to refocus, in a unified manner, on neutralizing enemy threats; failing which, it will not be long before missiles are striking not only Ashkelon but, once again, the heart of the country.
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