Future Foreign Policy

Was Israel’s assassination of Ahmed Al-Jabari really so shortsighted?

Many commentators have however pointed out several facts incongruous to this narrative, and it is these that have prompted Baskin’s analysis.

In a New York Times op-ed, Gershon Baskin of the Israel-Palestine research centre wrote that the assassination of Ahmed Al-Jabari, the head of the Hamas Military, that precipitated the latest bout of unequal warfare in Gaza was a short-sighted and hot-headed strategic failure. World leaders have been quick to rally around Israel in its right to defend itself from rocket fire, seemingly in support of the heavy casualties inflicted on the long-suffering Gazans, living as they do among the military installations of Hamas. Many commentators have however pointed out several facts incongruous to this narrative, and it is these that have prompted Baskin’s analysis.

Firstly, violent and uncompromising as Hamas is, it is facetious to give them the sole role of antagonist in this conflict, given Israel’s lack of serious commitment to a peace process despite the concessional approach of Palestinian leadership, their continued support for illegal settlement that remains the primary obstacle to a peace settlement, the continued siege of the Gaza strip and the abuses of the human rights of those within it, and the frequent displays of aggression by the extremely powerful Israeli military. It has even been pointed out that the resumption of rocket fire from Gaza was in response to an Israeli incursion that led to the deaths of civilians.

Secondly, it is asserted by many world leaders, that Israel was justified in its military response, and such an assertion must rest on a balance of the proportionality of the attack, taking into account the danger posed to Israel and the expected impact of the attack on the Gazan population, and the lack of other options. Although Israel claims it has no choice in harming civilians, and takes steps to ameliorate the legal cost of the attack, sending text message and leafleted warnings of attack, in a practice elsewhere characterised as ‘lawfare’, the most difficult revelation of all is that Al-Jabari was a key player in the imminent signing of a ceasefire agreement. The fact that the population of southern Israel has long had to suffer life under rocket-fire also raises the question of why it was not possible to see if the peaceful option would bear fruit, and end a conflict that now sees increased suffering on both sides.

Baskin’s conclusion rests on the rather weak assumption that the assassination of Al-Jabari was an error or miscalculation of some kind, although his analysis also suggests the possibility that the assassination was revenge for his kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit as an insurance policy, and the cost he exacted from Israel for Schalit’s release. Given the history of the confrontation between Israel and the Palestinians however, this is not entirely convincing.

Palestinians extinguish the fire resulting from the Israeli air strike that struck the car of Ahmed Al-Jabari. Reuters.

It is frequently observed of modern conflicts that, rather than representing a breakdown in sense and order, they can be seen to exist because one or more of the protagonists has something to gain, that might have nothing to do with victory. Conflict is also seen to be self-propagating, and both Israel and Hamas can be seen to have fallen to prey to their own logic of endlessly escalating aggression. Although the less-frequently observed lack of rational behaviour in conflicts will be important in the development of the violence to come, the gains to be made on the Israeli side have been clearly observed.

Throughout the peace process, Israel’s uncompromising stance has seen it play the international community for willing fools, and maintain its illegal policies of settlement building, harassment, and apartheid within Palestinian territories. This situation benefits Israeli politicians, whom increasingly maintain their popularity through strong measures towards Palestine, and can see the Palestinian claim slowly fade as their territory is further annexed, and they become dependent charges of a discriminatory Israeli state. From the desperation of this position, Israel has seen the rise of armed Palestine opposition since the Six-Day war with Egypt in 1967, and later Hamas in Gaza as a perfect counterpart in de-legitimising the Palestinian claim to national rights. Posing no great existential threat to Israel, it is to the long-term benefit of Israeli intentions in Palestine that a violent and extreme party has power in Gaza.

As has frequently been suggested in relation to the drone wars, the use of targeted killing from the skies in prolonged asymmetric warfare might only serve to further polarise the conflict, and moreover remove the leaders who might eventually see the need for negotiation in the impasse, whom now provide the best hopes for Afghanistan. As Baskin points out, Israel’s policy of the same ‘has never been effective in the long term’.

While Israel knows it can rely on international complacency in stymieing the peace process, the idea of members of Hamas signing a ceasefire is not part of the narrative they wish to create, and the Palestinian push for improved status at the United Nations, in which Al-Jabari was involved, which in the context of pro-Palestinian sympathies in the General Assembly, if not the Security Council, is too much a step towards international recognition of Palestinian rights to be tolerated.

Additionally, much has been made of the electoral pressures on Netanyahu. The continued threat to Israel sovereignty following Operation Cast Lead in 2008 also puts pressure on Israeli leaders to follow through this time, though it will prefer a bloody peace that will temporarily boost the leadership, and possibly further exhaust the Palestinian will to fight.

The consequence of placating and providing unconditional rhetorical support to Israeli leaders is to assure them that there is no need to check the dangerous excesses of their politics. Additionally, it is to give Palestinians little further hope in the International community and its purported system of order and justice, sinking beneath tides of Israeli settlements, incursions and blockades, faced only by the unrewarded conciliation of the Palestinian leadership on one hand, and the suicidal, unjustifiable radicalism of Hamas on the other.