News 31 july — 15:55

Gaza: Politics at Play While Deaths Soar (exclusive)

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BY DR. THEODORE KARASIK

As the Palestinian death toll rises from Israeli air strikes and urban operations in Gaza, and as factions in Gaza launch rockets at the Jewish state while ambushing Israeli Defense Forces in Gaza neighborhoods killing dozens, the political equations, or the lack thereof—continue with no end in sight.Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is now saying this war will be prolonged.

The Israelis are playing a tough, brutal game.  This game is driven into overkill over what appears to be a small group—perhaps a few men acting on their own agenda of hatred, who kidnapped and killed Naftali Frankel, GiladShaer, and EyalYifrah in mid-June 2014.  After a series of deadly tit for tat reprisals, Tel Aviv took the initiative to then destroy the Palestinian Unity Government by launching Operation Protective Edge by early July 2014. The Palestinian Unity Government (PUG), backed by key Arab governments and formed on June 2, 2014, sought to provide a regional solution to the Palestinian question.  Hamas and Fatah came together under one umbrella government that then collapsed because it seems the Israelis never wanted the PUG to work.

Diplomatic initiatives to solve the crisis featured all the regular players ranging from the United Nations, the United States, and the Arab states.  But what is different in this latest confrontation is that the regional environment is unlike anything in recent times- a split between the Sunni and Shiite believers, a split within the Sunnis, theincrease of tribalism above state governance, the rise of a more sinister, second-generation of violent jihadists across what used to be the Syrian-Iraqi border, and, simultaneously, a division line between Egypt and Qatar, with Saudi Arabia backing Cairo and Turkey and Iran backing Doha.  This division also plays into Tel Aviv’s hands to pursue Hamas, destroy infrastructure, and, unfortunately, kill hundreds of innocents.  Even the launch of Israeli urban operations took on extra meaning as, at the same time, Malaysian Air Flight 17 exploded over Ukraine killing 298 people.

The inter-Arab attempts to put forth a workable diplomatic solution are revealing.  Once Operation Protective Edge went into overdrive, Hamas leader Khaled Mashal pleaded with Qatar to intervene because the Egyptian proposal pushed by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi is backed by the United States.  Qatar, backed by Turkey and Iran, told Mashal to reject the treaty.  Qatari Emir Tammin had already visited Ankara to get the Turks onboard a different diplomatic solution that featured the opening border blockages before a ceasefire which is not want Cairo wants or desires.

The division between the Gulf Arab states also illustrates the decaying regional atmosphere.  Qatar’s Emir Tammin visited Saudi Arabia to meet with King Abdullah.  Press reports stated that the situation in Gaza was the focus of the meeting as well as the need for Arab unity during this latest, violent crisis.  However, much more was discussed, specifically Qatar’s ties to Iran, fixing discord in the GCC, and the overall state of the region from North Africa to Iraq.  The end result is clearly pressure to make Qatar change its foreign policy.  One Arab interlocutor stated that Oman is trying desperately to bring unity within the Gulf Cooperation Council states and that Muscat pushed the Qatari Emir to go Saudi Arabia.  At that meeting in Jeddah, Saudi Advisor to the King Prince Bandar bin Sultan and Minister of the Interior Prince Mohammed bin Nayef also attended the talks that focused on overall security issues.  Another Arab interlocutor said that the Saudi elites threatened Emir Tammin “to stop Doha’s ways or face tough alternatives including your departure.”  Indeed, this inter-Arab discord is occurring at exactly the wrong time.  Israel may relish this moment but there are clear national security issues that Tel Aviv needs to consider.

The Jewish state’s ongoing Gaza operation means that Israel is now completely surrounded by threats.  Not only will Islamic Jihad, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Popular Resistance Committees, and the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades not give up, but they will continue to attempt to kill as many IDF personnel as possible through urban combat.  To the north, east, and south, Hezbollah, the Islamic State, and al-Qaeda affiliates are all threatening to Israel—mostly in terms of separate agendas.  This threat to Israel not only takes the shape of Hezbollah-backed, Iranian Quds, Syrian troops but also the Islamic State of Syria and the Levant (ISIS) and the groups attempts to penetrate Jordan.  While ISIS tried once already to enter Jordan, there will likely be future attempts that will be used to draw the Israelis into Jordan as well as the United States due to existing security agreements between Amman, Tel Aviv, and Washington, D.C.  The result may be an unholy mess, one where the IDF will not want to be engaging enemies on all fronts.

The Gaza-Israeli war is taking on an increasingly important role in cyberspace.  The information war conducted by both sides is amazingly effective for Gaza and ineffective for the Israelis to date.  The number of tweets, hashtags, and facebook campaigns carrying all types of descriptive reporting and photographs from dead children to onlookers cheering on the destruction of Gaza is spreading like wildfire, capturing the hearts and minds of those who want to take sides, whether for political or religious reasons.  The longer Gaza plays out in cyberspace, the more likely the Palestinian cause will be assigned the role of the underdog.  Quite telling in the information war are eporters who do not cater to management are being reassigned, released, or muzzled because of their reporting is deemed not appropriate.

Cyber warfare is also escalating.  Competing websites are appearing, “armies” of hacktivists are fighting to get the attention of as many people as they can to either side.  Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attacks are rising and the more that these intrusions occur, the greater the risk of serious damage being done to Israeli infrastructure as well as spreading disinformation to spread panic.  For instance, pro-Palestinian activists were able to hack into the Twitter account of the Israeli Defense Force's spokesman and it is reported that over 40 million attacks have been conducted by sympathizers to the Palestinian cause. Anonymous, the loose hacker collective that has carried out cyber-attacks on a number of prominent targets including government websites in a number of countries across the world, is targeting Israel.  According to media reporting, Anonymous claimed via Twitter to have attacked over 40 Israeli government and military websites, defacing them with an image of Gaza in flames and a message that read, “Stop bombing Gaza! Millions of Israelis & Palestinians are lying awake, exposed and terrified. We have taken down your top security and surveillance website down.”  Many netizens supported the action.  This event is extremely serious and shows the pull of emotions in the growing conflict.

However, these attacks are not just between Gaza and Israeli net warriors.  The entire conflict is pulling apart communities around the globe, finding new support bases among disenfranchised youth searching for issues to contest and adding their voices to the real victims in this tragedy.  Demonstrations in major cities are occurring drawing thousands of people and congregations are being torn by politics.  This development is extremely unhealthy and can significantly bring the Gaza-Israeli conflict onto the streets of America and Europe sooner rather than later.

Overall, the Gaza-Israeli war is more serious than its previous incarnations.  The stakes are higher for all sides.  The increasing interest of state and non-state actors in this war means that a new lighting rod has not only emerged but is growing to challenge regional governments, who themselves are divided over their own security interests with many parties voicing their support for either side.  Between governments and individuals, the Tower of Babel is growing louder with no end in the short term.  The very fact that the conflict could merge with others in the region is giving rise to what some are calling “The New 30 Year War.”  This idea is not far from the truth as more blood is spilled.

(Dr. Theodore Karasik is the Director of Research and Consultancy at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA) in Dubai, UAE. He is also a Lecturer at University of Wollongong Dubai. Dr. Karasik received his Ph.D in History from the University of California Los Angles)

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