TLR 154 – Not Déja Vu
This issue interrupts the planned discussion of Israel’s changing political environment, in exactly the same way as its subject – the recent “Pillar of Defence” operation in Gaza – interrupted the political and election processes. But once this discussion is complete, the focus will return to domestic politics – as it already has in the country.
The main thrust of the issue is to analyse why the latest round of fighting in Gaza was not merely ‘more of the same’. The fact that many people in Israel are relating to the operation in this way makes that conclusion more tempting, but wrong nonetheless. “Pillar of Defence” was vastly different from Operation “Cast Lead”, which took place almost four years earlier and was the previous major clash between Israel and Hamas and the other Islamist organizations in the Gaza Strip.
Some of the differences are technical, but by no means unimportant. Most strikingly, the success of the “Iron Dome” anti-missile system was a factor that more than trumped the improvement in Hamas’ offensive capabilities, which stemmed from having heavier rockets with a longer range and greater payload. This defensive capability, which represents a remarkable technological achievement in its own right, vastly reduced the disruption of civilian life in the Tel Aviv conurbation and the southern cities of Ashdod and Beersheba — and effectively enabled the Israeli government to avoid launching a ground invasion of Gaza to eliminate the rocket arsenal. Such an invasion would likely have been very costly in terms of lives on both sides and would have caused massive damage to the Gazan civilian population, as well as possibly generating violent reactions elsewhere in the region and intense global disapproval.
But the biggest difference this time lay in the wider geo-political background in the Middle East and beyond. The revolution in Egypt and the rise to power there of the Moslem Brotherhood meant that Israel had to proceed much more cautiously against Gaza than was the case during the Mubarak period, because of the close links between Hamas and the Brotherhood, Hamas’ ideological parent. Yet the links that Hamas has forged in recent years with Iran have put it on the wrong side of the wider clash between Shi’ite Iran and its allies and proxies, and between the Sunni Moslem world – including Egypt, the largest Arab country, and Turkey, a non-Arab Moslem country with a Sunni Islamist government.
These aspects, as well as the potential impact of the operation on the upcoming Israeli election, are examined in this issue, whilst the next one will revert to the domestic political arena where a new map, with new parties and some new players, is taking shape.
A: Regional Developments
- Pillar of Defence: The Israeli story
- Why was this round different from all other rounds?
- Gaza in the regional context
- Meanwhile, elsewhere in the Middle East…
- The domestic electoral context