As Israel's punishing bombardment of the prison that is Gaza - the Palestinian territory of 1.4 million which it has had walled off and strangled for nearly three years -- grows more gruesome, as Israel's U.S.-supplied warplanes unleash weapons such as skin-melting white phosphorus bombs, as the death toll mounts (900 Palestinians dead, half of them civilian, 14 Israelis dead, including four civilians), as rights groups bellow about the humanitarian crisis, as the UN demands a ceasefire (thus far ignored by both Israel and Hamas), as ire and disbelief mounts not just among Arabs but across the world that trapped Gazans are being pounded without any means of escape, I've got to wonder yet again what Israel, which claims that it merely wants to stop rockets from being fired into its territory, is really hoping to achieve from this offensive (planned over six months ago) that can scarcely be called a war, since it's so pitifully unmatched. As witnessed on TV, on the one side are the well-trained Israeli defense forces, armed with fancy weapons, tanks, cutting edge missiles, bombs and drones along with F-15s and F-16s -- gifts from U.S. tax payers to the tune of over $2 billion each year for the past three decades (Israel being the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid in the world) - not to mention Israeli-made Arrow missiles, night vision goggles and every high-tech military gadget known to man; on the other hand Hamas, a militia, armed with rockets, many homemade, some supposedly from Iran, that at most hurdle 30 miles into the border, typically landing in the desert but occasionally killing a few Israelis a year (a total of ten Israelis perished from the rockets between 2001 through 2007) not to mention some machine guns, mortars and anti-aircraft missiles, which don't seem to be in wide use given the few slain Israeli soldiers fighting in Gaza.
Is the Israeli government's goal in this maneuver the impossible one of eradicating Hamas -- voted in with a majority to the Palestinian Authority in 2006 as a flipoff to Fatah (the corrupt PLO wing once headed by Yasir Arafat which under pressure from the US and Israel shoved out Hamas from the government, and rules over the other Palestinian territory, the West Bank) - when Israel's ongoing devastation of Gaza only bolsters support for radical anti-Israel groups such as Hamas? Does Israel truly believe that Gazans (even those who didn't support Hamas before) will now turn against Hamas, when so many civilians are dying and Hamas now appears their only way to fight back? Is Israel secretly hoping Iran will swoop into the fight so Israel will have reason to strike Iran's nuclear plants, which it believes will soon churn out nuclear weapons, while the Bush administration - which despite recent misleading news reports has previously egged Israel to take on Iran - is still in power? Is Israel trying to so decimate Gaza that once the fighting is over anyone who is able will flee and Israel can take the land? Or is this simply politics - a reflection of foreign minister Tzipi Livni's recent inability to forge a ruling coalition that would keep the current leading party, Kadima, along with Labor (headed by defense minister Ehud Barak) in power and a hope that by trying to crush Hamas, this administration (which after Hezbollah kidnapped Israeli soldiers in 2006 unsuccessfully tried to root out Hezbollah in Lebanon killing over 1000 civilians and causing $7 billion worth of damage in the month-long attack) to regain face with Israeli voters in time for the February elections?
Whatever the goals, Israel's current mission is sure to have a backlash that will rattle it for years, and one that will threaten Israel's existence far more severely than rockets shot over from Gaza. Granted, Israel has every reason to be upset and anxious about Hamas. The militia/social service provider/political party Hamas -previously posed a grave threat to the well-being of Israel. The group started in 1987 in Gaza as a religious study group (and initially supported by Israel because it loathed Arafat and the PLO) was the first to unleash suicide bombers - initially in the intifada (Palestinian uprising) that began in 1987, and again in the second intifada that started in 2000: most of the self-exploders who were killing and maiming civilians inside Israel a few years ago were selected and trained by Hamas, whose original charter goals called for the destruction of Israel, which it wants to replace with an Islamic state.
However, suicide bombers rarely infiltrate Israel these days - hundreds of Israeli-manned checkpoints, prohibition of entry to most Palestinians into Israel, Israeli-only highways that crisscross and encircle Palestinian land, settlements (in the West Bank), fences and the infamous wall that now boxes in all of Gaza and most of the West Bank have all worked to make suicide bombing an erased threat, as have Israeli incursions into Palestinian territories and targeted killings. In fact, according to Israel's human rights organization, B'Tselem, as of November 2008, Israeli security forces had killed some 4,800 Palestinians (over 2200 of them civilians including over 900 children) while Palestinians had killed some 1000 Israelis (over 700 civilians, including over 120 children) since the intifada began when Ariel Sharon took a stroll with a thousand armed guards on Jerusalem's Temple Mount/al-Haram al-Sharif - holy to both Jews and Muslims -- in the area near the al-Aqsa mosque where Jews are forbidden (by rabbis) to tread, and where the appearance of the man who first legitimized Israeli settlements on Palestinian land was meant to be confrontational.
Suicide bombers have now been replaced by rockets shot blindly into Israel, but until recently most weren't even lobbed by Hamas, instead being shot by their rivals, Islamic Jihad, who vie for control in Gaza, and who didn't abide by the six-month ceasefire between Hamas and Israel that recently came to an end, and which didn't bring an end to the blockade as Israel had promised -- which is why Hamas didn't want to renew it.
While Israel understandably wants to eradicate terrorist threats and indeed has a right to protect its citizens and land, the Jewish homeland itself is viewed by Palestinians (particularly Gazans) as a terrorist force due to frequent incursions into Gaza which knock out power plants, crumble bridges, and blast buildings in the name of assassinating Hamas leaders while also killing civilians. Israel is quick to point out how Israeli children suffer from rockets shot over by Gazans, but Israel's constant buzzing drones hover and low-flying planes streaking overhead with sonic booms in their wake - part of ongoing psyop missions -- traumatize Palestinian children, hundreds of whom have been killed in this attack and hundreds more who have perished in other missions since 2000.
Beyond military operations, for the past few years - particularly after Hamas, shoved out of power by Fatah, stormed into Gaza in 2007 and took it by force -- Israel often cuts off fuel, leaving Gazans without heat or light, and has imposed suffocating blockades that prevent trade or movement, and causing massive unemployment, poverty and shortages of food and medicine - deprivations that create the need for more tunnels to Egypt, through which supplies along with arms are smuggled. The dramatic "breakout" of Gazans from their prison in December 2007 to go shopping briefly in Egypt before being penned in again, was but one hint of the intolerable conditions under which Gazans are living.
Whatever its reasons and justifications and despite its desire to bolster its security, Israel's war on densely-populated Gaza (where it maintains it is trying to target only Hamas) is starting to blow up in its face as dramatically as the bombs over Gaza. Public opinion in the United States is divided - the Bush administration is the only in the world which applauds the move into Gaza -- but the rest of the planet is demanding cessation to this lopsided "war." Despite Israel's muzzling and refusal to allow Western media into Gaza, Israel no longer looks like the underdog or the victim, but instead appears like an overarmed killer on a rampage - and this image reflects on the U.S., which enables Israel with its yearly arm gifts and political support. While demonstrations worldwide demand a halt to the Israeli assault and governments that the U.S. considers moderate (such as Egypt and Jordan) are struggling to keep their hold over citizens furious that their leaders aren't intervening (or in the case of Egypt allowing the wall to come down so Gazans can flee), sheer hatred is building towards Israel among many in the Middle East, and this ire will certainly result in more extreme militant actions and the rise of more terrorist groups dedicated to eradicate Israel.
There are no blacks and whites in this situation, and indeed Israel has a right to protect itself, but then again so does Gaza. Hamas falls far short of being angelic or good-hearted, it does pose a limited threat to Israel and even their right to rule Gaza is up for debate. Yet, given the brutality of Israel's actions and the acidic ire it's creating, I can't help but conclude that the biggest threat to Israel's existence is Israel's military actions: while Israel will no doubt emerge victorious in this so-called "war against Hamas," I fear that history will ultimately regard Operation Cast Lead as a suicide mission.