Mon. Jul 15th, 2024

Op-Ed: Israel-Hamas Flareup: The Hard Questions We Should Be Asking

Gaza bombardment by Israeli forces (photo: CNN)

By Aaryaman Nijhawan

As Hamas took multiple hostages in its bold and daring attack, there is another group of hostages that is seldomly discussed – the global populace. Hamas’ attack on Israel was brutal, but so was the Israeli forces’ response.  Despite this, there are multiple one-sided narratives propagated by the global mainstream media, which is often downplaying, self-censoring, or outright ignoring the facts on the ground. 

For starters, we have yet to witness a major legacy media outlet (except Qatar’s and Russia’s) that has seriously delved into why Hamas chose to do what it did. For those not aware, the group posted a media message on its website detailing why it had been forced to carry out Operation Al-Aqsa Flood. Calling on Israel’s “utter disregard for international laws” and its “crimes against Palestinians”, the group declared it was launching its operation after Tel Aviv “repeatedly attacked several cities in the West Bank, continued to storm the Al-Aqsa mosque, and targeted Palestinian detainees held in Israeli jails.”

It gained little coverage, especially in Western media circles but Haaretz, Israel’s most respected newspaper, conceded early on that “actually the Israeli government is solely responsible for what happened (Al-Aqsa Flood) for denying the rights of Palestinians.”

From a completely different standpoint, there were two main triggers for Hamas’ current deadly assault. First was the grave fallacy of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he displayed his ‘New Middle East’ map on 22 September at the United Nations, wiping out any trace of Gaza or the West Bank. The second, more brutal was when at least 800 Israeli settlers assaulted the Al-Aqsa Mosque premises on October 5, where they destroyed Palestinian shops and beat pilgrims, under the watchful eyes of the Israeli forces. No wonder Hamas’ operation was named ‘Al-Aqsa Flood’.

Anyone even remotely acquainted with Middle Eastern affairs knows that Al-Aqsa is a sensitive red line not just for the Palestinians but for all the Arabs and Muslims. It is Islam’s third holiest site and almost every time Israeli soldiers stormed the mosque, Hamas has responded by firing a barrage of rockets. 

Secondly, Hamas actually is the brainchild of Israel. But why doesn’t the mainstream media discuss this bitter truth openly? Treating Hamas as an independent militant organisation with no links to Israel would be doing a disservice to the geopolitics of the region. In fact, Hamas’ history from its rise and incubation by the Israeli forces is well-documented, and analyzing it would certainly help to add more context to the current conflict instead of considering it as an isolated incident. 

Just as the Taliban was secretly armed by the Americans against the USSR, the Israelis thought they could conveniently weaken Palestinian opposition by arming fundamentalists and undermining the secular and internationally recognized Palestine Liberation Organisation. 

The 1993 Oslo Accords called for the creation of “an interim Palestinian self-government” with “the withdrawal of Israeli forces from territories they occupied during the 1967 war and the creation of a sovereign Palestinian State alongside Israel.” To avert this, Mossad proceeded to fund and arm Hamas as a “counterweight” to the secularists, in the words of Brig. Gen. Yitzhak Segev, former Israeli military governor in Gaza in the 1980s. This was further confirmed by Yasser Arafat who himself referred to Hamas as “a creature of Israel.” In 2007, then-Israeli Defense Intelligence Chief Amos Yadlin himself confessed, “Israel would be happy if Hamas took over Gaza because IDF could then deal with Gaza as a hostile state.”

However, by the time Israelis recognized the larger threat in the form of Hamas, the group was too big, too influential, and too popular to be taken down. At this point, Hamas has sufficiently proven to the world it’s a force majeure in Palestinian affairs. Single-handedly, the armed group has achieved more negotiating leverage over an October weekend than the entire Palestinian movement had in a decade.

Thirdly, and more importantly, is the almost comedic one-sided engagement regarding the conflict that the Western media is propagating. Senseless civilian death and destruction of lives is deeply regrettable and should be mourned, irrespective of side. The killing of Israeli civilians is wrong, but so is the indiscriminate bombing of Gaza’s civilian populations. The brutal blockade of food, water, fuel, medicine, and humanitarian aid forced onto Gaza’s almost 2 million residents by Israel is a war crime under the Geneva Conventions. Another virtually non-existent topic. Covering only Israeli deaths while remaining silent on Israeli atrocities is tantamount to hypocrisy. Why be silent on Israeli war crimes when the West was so vocal about what it saw as Russian war crimes in the Ukrainian conflict? 

The buck doesn’t stop here. During the State Department briefing on October 11, US spokesperson Matt Miller deflected, glossed over, and outright ignored probing questions regarding the conflict. The questioning ranged from whether the United States will ask Israel to adhere to international law including the Geneva Conventions, to why doesn’t the United States ask Israel to practice restraint to minimize civilian casualties in its military campaign, to the silence of American authorities on a number of Palestinians killed in the ongoing Israeli operation. 

Major Western news outlets are repeatedly and conveniently ignoring the questions that need to be asked, such as why instead of calling for peace and mutual restraint, Washington is throwing its unconditional support behind any and all Israeli actions, including employing incendiary substances like white phosphorous to target settlements, which has been flagged and verified by the Human Rights Watch. 

Under Protocol III of the Convention on the Prohibition of Use of Certain Conventional Weapons, incendiary weapons like white phosphorus cannot be used against military targets located among civilians. Israel isn’t a signatory to the convention, but its use of white phosphorous in earlier combat operations has drawn widespread war crimes allegations by rights groups. The Israeli military has in turn misleadingly stated that “The current accusation made against the IDF (Israel Defence Force) regarding the use of white phosphorus in Gaza is unequivocally false.”

Talking objectively, there might be two reasons (among others) for Americans giving Israelis a blank check for their operations. The first and most plausible reason revolves around America’s colossal Military Industrial Complex, which has substantially grown over decades into a monolithic behemoth dubbed the MICIMATT (Military-Industrial-Congressional-Intelligence-Media-Academia-Think-Tank) complex. The acronym, coined by former CIA officer Ray McGovern, refers to the behind-the-scene actors responsible for directing Ukrainian authorities to scuttle a peace deal reached with Moscow on 31st March 2022. 

As congressional backing for Ukraine began to sputter, the flare-up in Israel provided another lucrative market for the MICIMATT. This theory goes back to former US President Dwight D Eisenhower’s 1961 farewell speech in which he warned against “unwarranted influence” from the military-industrial complex. 

The second reason was the waning American dominance in the Middle East and the entry of other serious players such as Russia, India, and China. The expansion of BRICS, the normalization of relations between Iranians and Saudis, and victory of the Syrian government in the civil war, and Turkey adopting autonomous policies all point to receding American influence. Thus, combined with the previous theory, perpetual war will hinder economic development and reconstruction in the region, while raising American influence and stock prices of major American defense corporations.

While the conflict escalates, Israel has informed the UN that it has asked the entire population of North Gaza to evacuate within 24 hours, with later unconfirmed indications that even that deadline might not be respected. Palestinian authorities have resolutely rejected such an option and the United Nations said such an action within the postulated timeframe is impossible without disastrous humanitarian consequences. Finally, on 13th October the EU foreign ministers began to publicly demand an end to the humanitarian blockade, acknowledging the changing public opinion. On a long-term geostrategic scale, it is extremely myopic for Israel’s closest allies including the United States to let this conflict escalate since displaced migrants will sooner or later end up on European shores. 

Then there is the talk about Iranian involvement. From the get-go, both Israel and America have been complaining about alleged ‘Iranian involvement’ in the attack on Hamas. Even after the US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said there was no “direct evidence” linking Iran to the Al-Aqsa Flood, the US and its allies continue to ‘warn’ Iran not to get involved in the conflict. 

The question naturally arises as to why are American and Israeli authorities making such sustained attempts at spinning an Iranian angle despite the facts pointing otherwise? White House national security spokesperson John Kirby himself verified that “in terms of specific evidence on this, these sorts of attacks, no, we don’t have anything” and Politico declares that authorities in Tel Aviv have no evidence pointing to Iranian involvement.

Despite this, the powers that be have chosen to expediently overlook these factual revelations. In a joint press conference held on 13 October by US Defense Secretary and Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, when asked whether they have proof regarding Iranian involvement in the attacks, Gallant replied that “it doesn’t matter if they give or didn’t give the permission [for the attacks]. But the idea is an Iranian idea”. Washington and Qatar have now again abruptly blocked $6 billion in Iranian funds that were released as part of a prisoner exchange earlier, unnecessarily raising the stakes. 

India and its media, for their part, ventured into a fiasco from the start. In a break from continuity, publicly and wholeheartedly supporting Israel initially meant that Delhi was picking sides in the conflict for the first time. Consequently, gross shortcomings evident in global mainstream media continues within major Indian legacy media outlets as well. One-sided coverage of the issue with sound bites taken directly from Western outlets without independent investigation does more harm than good. In this respect, India should look towards Russia which has adopted an excellent diplomatic position by advising for peace, restraint, and negotiations at the earliest. 

Moscow, for its part, has placed itself perfectly as an arbiter and mediator in the conflict with Russian President Vladimir Putin saying “Israel has the right to self-defense, but Palestinian civilians should not suffer”. If India wants to secure its global standing as a leading negotiator, a precondition is taking a balanced approach to any conflict situation. 

So, is there a way out from this political impasse or are Israel and Hamas doomed to violent episodes of confrontation? Any settlement based on the United Nations Charter is expected to be long-lasting if all sides can sincerely adhere to it. Initially, talks can resume on the return of hostages along with a phased withdrawal of Israeli apparatus from occupied territories of the Gaza Strip. 

However, that is for short-term relief. In some distant future, a return to the 1967 UN-designated borders is a must for enduring peace. Parties will inevitably need to resolve the questions of Jewish settlers and how to resolve political differences between Hamas and the PLO. Will Israeli settlers be inculcated within a newly created Palestinian state with minority rights? Or will they be repatriated back to Israel? Will Hamas and the PLO continue to govern Palestinian territories with the Libyan model of splitting administrative jurisdictions? Or will they form a grand coalition responsible for all Palestinian territories?

Any form of negotiated settlement will have to be a fair, mutually respected compromise between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Forcing a one-way peace will not stop the violence, but only delay it. 

Whatever the settlement may be, one thing is certain. For any long-lasting peace to take effect, Israeli soldiers must withdraw, not advance.

Nijhawan is an International Relations expert in Non-Western Affairs and a graduate of Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO University), Russian Federation. He can be reached via [email protected]

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