Pleas for “de-escalation” are drowned out by missile fire
More than 80 Palestinians have been killed by laser guided “precision” Israeli missiles launched from F-16 jets while the unguided Chinese made “dumb” rockets flung into Israel by Hamas have claimed three lives since renewed hostilities broke out last week.
About 700 others, mainly Palestinian civilians, have been injured.
As politicians around the world, including US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Julia Gillard, urged restraint as they defended Israel’s right to respond to unrelenting Hamas rocket attacks, Israeli ground troops and heavy armour were formed up along the border with Gaza. Air strikes and rocket attacks (and an 80 to 3 fatality rate) are one thing, but a ground invasion by a vastly superior force backed by tanks and artillery, would be much, much worse and far more risky for Israel.
As UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said, “The prime minister (David Cameron) and I have both stressed to our Israeli counterparts that a ground invasion of Gaza would lose Israel a lot of the international support and sympathy that they have in this situation.
“It’s much more difficult to restrict and avoid civilian casualties during a ground invasion and a large ground operation would threaten to prolong the conflict,” Mr Hague said.
US President Barack Obama echoed those sentiments saying it was “preferable” for the Gaza crisis to end without a “ramping up” of Israeli military action.
“Israel has every right to expect that it does not have missiles fired into its territory,” President Obama said . “If that can be accomplished without a ramping up of military activity in Gaza, that is preferable.
“That is not just preferable for the people of Gaza, it is also preferable for Israelis because if Israeli troops are in Gaza, they are much more at risk of incurring fatalities or being wounded,” he said.
Both men are correct and while Israel enjoys strong international support for its “defensive” action, escalating things with an “offensive” ground invasion would see sympathy quickly evaporate or shift to the other side.
The problem with the current conflict is the same one that has befallen every other Middle East war during the past half century. Whenever war is waged in the ancient holy lands there are seldom winners, but there are always large numbers of losers and Israel often ends up painted as the bad boy of the region because of its military dominance and tendency to overreact.
Of course it is unacceptable for Hamas to fire rockets into Israel. The fact that the unguided weapons mostly fall harmlessly in sparsely populated desert areas or are shot down by Israel’s so-called “iron dome” defensive umbrella means that Israeli casualties are minimal.
When Israel responds it hits hard with air strikes in densely populated areas that generate civilian casualties and awful TV pictures that provoke sympathy for Hamas. The fact that Hamas actually started this latest fight has already been lost in the thick “fog of war”.
Israel reduces various Hamas government buildings to rubble, killed some leaders (and a lot of women and children) and she will claim a military victory.
But at what cost?
According to Hamas, Israeli strikes on Sunday killed 26 Palestinians, including 14 women and children.
Imagine the reaction if 29 Australians were killed by foreign missiles in just one day?
Meanwhile diplomatic efforts have intensified in a bid to end the bloodshed. Egypt has offered to broker a ceasefire but Israel won’t have a bar of it unless Hamas stops firing rockets.
Foreign Minister Bob Carr entered the fray and used some very cautious language to urge restraint.
“With the Middle East in some uncertainty, with a complex and serious political situation, there is a lot to be gained by restraint, even while the anger that Israelis feel is very understandable,” Senator Carr said.
Israeli anger is understandable, but 80 dead and more than 600 injured Palestinians ensures that intractable hatred will be cemented for several more generations.
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