Opinion: Clearing the Smokescreen

The past six weeks have been a particularly violent one for Israel and Gaza. But why all the attacks, and why now? To answer that, we must recall that Gaza is not in a vacuum. Despite the portrayal of Gaza as somehow this isolated conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, the reality is the political intrigue behind the fighting reaches Tehran and New York.

October kicked off a nasty stretch in the Gaza violence: included in that was a 70-rocket onslaught, part of the more than 150 rockets fired during the month. That was roughly a quarter of all the attacks for the entire year to that point.

As the month shifted into November, the IDF reported that four border attacks have injured multiple Israeli soldiers, including Saturday’s anti-tank missile strike. Then came the 100-plus rocket assault over the last two days.

Part of the violence is the oft refusal of Gaza terror groups to let Israeli retaliation end the round of fighting. An IDF counterstrike that kills Palestinian terrorists, itself in response to a Palestinian border attack, is then in turn responded to with Gaza rocket attacks, which only worsens the conflict.

But it’s much more complicated than that. Looking around the region, it begins to become clear why October suddenly sparked the attacks.

The situation in Syria has deteriorated rapidly. President Bashar al-Assad found himself not only fighting for the life of his regime against a stunningly resilient rebellion, but also fending off growing threats from neighbor Turkey, which has been the recipient of spillover violence from the Syrian civil war. The situation even got NATO involved to a degree, although military involvement from the West seems highly unlikely to this point.

What does this have to do with Gaza? Syria, remember, is Iran’s most important ally in the region. As international attention escalated there, it makes sense that Iran would want to try and divert things, at least a bit. Syria would share that motivation, lest increasing global outrage and Turkish angst lead to a greenlight for intensified armament for the Syrian rebels—or possibly even some level of foreign military intervention.

At the same time, Iran was also coming under strong scrutiny for its nuclear program. The US elections and the United Nations annual meeting in New York were helping to highlight what came across as a harsher eye from Washington towards Tehran, even as there were rumors and reports of efforts between the sides to reach a secret deal as well. Regardless, Israel was particularly strong in sounding the alarm, and the prospect of a military strike in Iran was becoming a regular news item.

With Iran and it’s main ally so much in a negative spotlight, a smokescreen suddenly emerged. There was the brief uptick in Lebanon violence, and Gaza threw itself into the diversion fray. Both territories, coincidentally, have terror groups bank-rolled by Iran. Taking viagra online melbourne dollars and missiles to arm oneself comes with a price—when the sponsor in Tehran says shoot, they have to shoot. And shoot they did.

But while that may explain why Hezbollah or some of the Gaza groups were active, what about Hamas? Even though Hamas receives some support from Iran, things are getting shakier there and Hamas is no longer on friendly terms with the Assad regime in Syria.

That’s where New York, or rather the United Nations’ headquarters there, comes into play. The West Bank Palestinian leadership, headed by Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah party, are in the midst of a new effort to upgrade their status at the UN. Hamas, which was riding on so much political momentum a year ago after the trade for IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, is now reduced to promoting last year’s news as this year’s boasts. Fatah, however, is out to make its own headlines now.

The economic anxiety in the West Bank has grown, leading to protests there. Gaza isn’t exactly a hotbed for success and prosperity. Hamas has to realize its losing the PR battle at home on multiple fronts: with the economic circumstances and it’s political rivalry with Fatah. Watching the protests in the West Bank, on top of the Arab Spring, has to make the Hamas leadership nervous.

While it’s true that Hamas is scoring political points abroad—the head of Qatar paid them a visit and ties seem to be looking decent with Turkey and Egypt—it is no surprise that Hamas greenlighted some renewed fighting with Israel from other groups to help further boost their standing in Gaza and refocus Gazan frustration.

Tragically, one of the ways to keep the locals from blaming their leaders is to create a scapegoat of the neighbors. Israel is therefore targeted, again and again.

So the result? Expect the current round of attacks to end sometime soon and probably a new calm will descend on the region as the year comes to a close. The last thing Hamas wants is a new Israeli military campaign in Gaza, and Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned of just that if the violent escalation continues. It’s doubtful even Hamas will be that short-sighted.

For now, the current fighting should serve as a troubling reminder that no matter how broad the smiles from Hamas leaders on TV as they shake hands with Arab leaders, the reality is those hands are still stained with Israeli blood. Hamas hasn’t reformed, they’ve just found ways to distance themselves from the fighting by using other groups. And Iran still looms as a vicious sponsor of Gaza terror.

This surge in attacks will come to an end. Yet until the spirit of hate departs from Tehran and Gaza City, the tragic cyclical reality warns that once this smokescreen clears, another will already loom on the horizon.

(By Joshua Spurlock, www.themideastupdate.com, November 11, 2012)