Israel’s offensive in Gaza is the government of Israel’s farewell present to outgoing US president George W. Bush. ‘Israel’s best friend ever’ has supported it through every conflict and war, justified its aggressive moves, and prevented any international intervention against it. Bush awarded Israel the position of a central forward striker in his war on terror, thereby strengthening its most extreme right wing. With real friends like these, who needs illusionary enemies?
But Israel is not a satellite state of the US. It does try to accommodate US policy, but also to lead according to its own agenda. Thus, for example, the eight years of ‘peace process’ during Clinton’s administration (1992-2000) were an Israeli initiative which bypassed and neutralized Clinton's mediation, just as the eight years of war and unilateral policy of the Bush era (2000-2008) began in Israel before Bush’s inauguration. Now too, Israel initiated the escalation in Gaza without anyone noticing, on November 4th, 2008, Election Day in the US. Israel’s present aggression cannot be understood without considering its timing, i.e., the ‘window of opportunity’ between Obama’s election and swearing in.
I remember a conversation I had with the renowned late American scholar Charles Tilly, during his visit to Israel in May 2000. He asked me what is the political logic of the then Prime Minister Ehud Barak ? I told him about his political ‘schedule’: withdrawal from Lebanon in July, negotiations with the Palestinians completed in September, US elections in November. Tilly halted my speech arguing that this is not a political behavior, this is a military logic: giving ultimatums, avoiding negotiations, and then unilateral actions. He was right, in the peculiar democratic/military regime in Israel the politician/generals have acted unilaterally since then: Withdrawal (from Lebanon, 2000) and redeployment (in Gaza, 2005), non-proportional violent reactions (In the occupied territories in 2000-2004 against the Intifada, in Lebanon and Gaza after the soldiers abductions in 2006, and now in Gaza), and building illegally the separation wall. All these are unilateral military moves, without recognition of the other, without negotiations. The US support is crucial; hence the presidential elections are part of the military plan schedule in Israel.
The attack on Gaza is a continuation of the unilateral and aggressive policy of the last eight years, aiming to exploit the support of Bush administration while forcing President-elect Obama to take a position under crisis, immediately as he enters office. The move began on November 4th, 2008, when the IDF entered the Gaza Strip, blew up a tunnel and killed six Hamas men, thereby breaking four and a half months of Tahadia (ceasefire). The Palestinians responded by firing Kasam missiles at Israel; in response, IDF closed the border crossings and tightened the siege over the Strip. The siege has been kept ever since, so the Hamas government announced that the condition for renewing the ceasefire was lifting the siege and opening the crossings. Israel chose to regard the condition of opening the crossings as a refusal by the Hamas to renew the ceasefire.
Israel calls this ‘self-defense’. But President Bush, the president of France, the Prime Minister of Germany and the President of Egypt too, keep repeating this mantra of ‘self-defense’. Israel’s argument is that “no sovereign nation could put up with being fired at by a neighboring state”, ignoring the fact that the Gaza Strip is not a “neighboring state”. This is the heart of the conflict: Gaza is a huge prison controlled by the Israeli army, which prevents entry and exit of persons and goods, not only from the border crossings with Israel, but also from the Egyptian border, as well as by sea and air.
This deception by the government of Israel could not have been accepted if it wasn’t for the era of war on terror by President Bush, with the deception of the invasion of Iraq and the mass killing of civilians at its core. Prior to the occupation of Iraq in April 2002, when the IDF recaptured the towns of the West Bank, killing hundreds of Palestinians and taking apart the institutions of the Palestinian Authority, there was harsh international criticism of Israel, and it was only at the Bush administration’s intervention that a UN commission was prevented from arriving to investigate the massacre in Jenin. Who is going to establish an investigative commission now? The Bush administration has managed to impose the war on terror over the entire world by bluntly ignoring global public opinion, but since then, Bush has remained in Iraq while Europe and the conservative Arab countries have gradually aligned with his policy. If there is anything resembling Israel’s invasion of Gaza, it is the US occupation of Iraq, and if Israel manages to crush Hamas rule, as Bush has crushed Sadam Hussein’s rule, it will not be able to get out of Gaza.
Many around the world were disappointed with Obama’s silence on the Israeli aggression. Such disappointment may be justified, from the US policy in the Middle East since Carter's administration one cannot expect too much. If the President-elect continues Bush’s policy, only with a Clinton style improved image, it would be disastrous. There is a strong link between Iraq and Gaza, and if the US’s withdrawal from Iraq is not accompanied by a honest and viable Israeli-Palestinian agreement, then the threat of radical Islam could indeed reach Cairo, Tel-Aviv, Paris and London.
But there is another, more positive possibility. It’s possible that Barack Obama understands the trick Israel is trying to pull, and therefore opts to be silent for as long as he has no executive powers. I hope that this is the case, and that upon beginning his office, Obama would behave as a true friend to Israel and save it from itself. He must stop Israeli aggression. Israel’s problem is an excess of military power stemming from the trauma of the Holocaust. Israel is behaving like the neighborhood bully expecting someone to stop him, because it does have the power to destroy everything around it, while destroying itself in the process. Anyone who sincerely wishes to help Israel must release it from its position as the central forward striker in the war on Islam, in which the Bush era of war on terror has framed it. Let us all hope that the war in Gaza is a farewell ceremony marking the end of President Bush’s destructive era. It is indeed high time for the promised "change". Obama, yes YOU can.
* Lev Grinberg is the author of Politics and Violence in Israel/Palestine: Democracy vs. Military Rule (forthcoming in May 2009, Routledge).
The writer is the author of the book Imagined Peace, Discourse of War (Resling, 2007) [in Hebrew].