Israel, Hamas and Rockets: Time to Pummel Gaza Again?

By Steve Breyman

From December 27, 2008 through January 18, 2009, Israel waged war on the Gaza Strip. Twelve to fourteen hundred Palestinians were killed, including many women and children. Thirteen Israelis were killed; several by friendly fire. Nearly a third of Gazans were left without running water. Tens of thousands were left homeless. The physical structures of Hamas rule were left in ruins. Hundreds of greenhouses and factories were destroyed.

The declared rationale for the assault was the launching of the glorified bottle rockets known as Qassams into southern Israeli towns like Sderot. The February 2009 national elections in Israel likely played a role in the timing of the attacks, six months in the planning. Each side blamed the other for breaking the uneasy ceasefire in effect for six months prior to the winter hostilities. Rocket fire had dwindled to near zero during the lull.  Hamas considered the November 4, 2008, Israeli raid on a Gaza tunnel a major violation of the truce, and fired rockets and mortars in retaliation. Back-and-forth exchanges continued until Operation Cast Lead—called the Gaza Massacre in the Arab press–was launched on December 27.

The UN’s Goldstone Report rejected Israel’s claim that it acted in self-defense against the rockets. Instead, the Report found the offensive “a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population.” Hamas too was accused of war crimes for failing to discriminate between military and civilian targets. The fallout from the Gaza assault and the Goldstone and other reports put Israel on the public relations defensive. Ongoing efforts in the United States to smear Goldstone and his Report, and to insulate Israel from further UN or International Criminal Court action proceed with gusto. 

Israel did not achieve its stated war aim of stopping missile attacks from Gaza. Dozens of rockets and mortar shells have landed in the western Negev since the Israeli withdrawal of combat troops on January 18, 2009, and the declaration of mutual unilateral ceasefires. Militants affiliated with groups other than Hamas appear to have been responsible for most if not all the attacks this year.
In what ways did the Israeli assault improve the country’s security?

Now, according to Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, and military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin, Hamas has both replenished its arsenal of rockets and added a new missile capable of hitting Tel Aviv. Hamas’s military wing declined comment; the spokesman for its political wing, Fawzi Barhoum, denied the claims.

Are we six months out from Gaza Massacre II?

President-elect Obama did not condemn the Israeli destruction of Gaza. His early effort to force a settlement halt ran up against Netanyahu’s intransigence and his own unwillingness to play hardball by threatening a cutoff of aid. His administration might stop praising the Netanyahu government for “unprecedented restraint” in colonial settlement construction, and begin the strenuous campaign likely needed to spare Gaza a second onslaught.

-Steve Breyman teaches at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He contributed this article to Contact him at:

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