Israel threatens a new slaughter

Eric Ruder reports on the Israel military's latest moves against the Palestinians of Gaza.

Another explosion rocks Gaza City as israeli warplanes carry out new attacksAnother explosion rocks Gaza City as israeli warplanes carry out new attacks

ISRAELI FORCES carried out the assassination of Hamas military chief Ahmed al-Jaabari on November 14 and then launched a flurry of at least 20 air strikes on Gaza, leaving at least eight Palestinians dead and 84 more injured. Israeli officials promised more air strikes in the coming days--and also said that they had not ruled out a ground invasion.

Across the U.S. and around the world, antiwar, social justice and human rights activists called for emergency actions to oppose Israel's latest offensive and express solidarity with the Palestinian people.

The Israeli offensive shattered hopes that a truce brokered a day earlier by Egypt might end weeks of exchanges, with Israeli military forces stationed near the Gaza border trading fire with Palestinians launching rockets.

With plumes of smoke rising in the air and terrified residents scrambling to find loved ones, Palestinians prepared for the worst in recognition of the heightened rhetoric of Israeli leaders. "The head of the snake must be smashed," said Yisrael Katz, a government minister from Israel's governing Likud Party. "Israel will continue to kill and target anyone who is involved in the rocket attacks." And, of course, Israel will also target those not involved in the rocket attacks: The Israeli strikes have already killed two Palestinian children.

Hamas officials vowed to retaliate, saying that the Israeli offensive "had opened the gates of hell." Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum said the Israelis had "committed a dangerous crime and broken all red lines" and that "the Israeli occupation will regret and pay a high price" for its aggression.

Ismail Haniyeh, the Gaza leader of Hamas, called on Arab states to pressure Israel about its latest attack. "We call on our Arab brothers, and especially Egypt...and the new Egyptian presidency, to suppress this barbaric campaign in defense of Gaza and its people," said Haniyeh. "I call for an urgent Arab summit to confront the brutal aggression."

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ISRAEL'S KILLING of Jaabari, the highest-level Hamas official it has targeted since Israel's 22-day Operation Cast Lead killed 1,400 Palestinians four years ago, now threatens to open up a wider war.

During Operation Cast Lead, Egypt under U.S.-backed dictator Hosni Mubarak could be expected to stand by and watch as Israeli forces slaughtered civilians and attacked the civilian infrastructure, such as schools and water treatment facilities.

But no one knows how Egypt under President Mohamed Morsi, a leader of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, might respond to Operation Pillar of Defense, as Israel has dubbed this latest assault. Morsi's Freedom and Justice Party issued a statement saying, "The wanton aggression against Gaza proves that Israel has yet to realize that Egypt has changed and that the Egyptian people who revolted against oppression will not accept assaulting Gaza."

Already, Morsi has ordered Egypt's ambassador to Israel to return and called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council and the Arab League to respond to the attacks. It's even possible that Morsi could come under pressure to annul Egypt's 1979 peace treaty with Israel.

Tensions in the region have already been running high. Two days before the assassination of Jaabari, Israeli tanks fired on Syrian artillery positions after stray mortars launched by Syrian forces targeting rebel-held areas crossed the border into the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Syria's brutal repression of the Arab Spring rebellion that began in that country 20 months ago grinds on, and it's possible that the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which is straining to maintain its grip on power, may seek to widen the scope of the conflict as a way to neutralize the resistance.

In Jordan, furious protests broke out against government-imposed increases in fuel prices on November 13, marking the most militant challenge to Jordan's monarchy since the beginning of the Arab Spring in early 2011. Half of Jordan's population of 6 million has Palestinian roots, which could drive anger even higher.

According to the New York Times:

The demonstrations were the most aggressive in this politically fragile and strategically critical ally of the United States in the past two years, particularly outside the capital, where many protesters shouted slogans against King Abdullah II that previously would only have been whispered. Teachers went on strike, and other unions announced a two-hour work stoppage for Sunday. The crowds included first-time protesters and tribal members who have been the king's political base.

"This is the beginning of the Jordanian Spring: November 13," declared Hassan Barari, a political science professor at the University of Jordan, where students blocked a main road near campus. "Because this is no longer a political thing; this is the lives of the people. If you go around to the tribes--this is the backbone of the king--they can't afford anything. It can't be worse."

In Lebanon, there was speculation that Hezbollah resistance fighters--who successfully drove Israel out of southern Lebanon in 2006--might launch an assault on northern Israel in defense of Hamas and the Palestinians of Gaza.

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FOR MONTHS now, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been issuing one threat after another--at Iran, at Hamas, at the Palestinian Authority's Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank for seeking observer status at the United Nations.

One reason for Netanyahu's greater-than-usual bellicosity is certainly Israel's upcoming elections, scheduled for January 22. According to the Christian Science Monitor:

Netanyahu's reelection campaign could be boosted by the attack on Ahmed al-Jaabri--particularly in southern Israel, where residents have been protesting the recent uptick in rocket attacks from Gaza. But if Hamas and its allies make good on promises of revenge, Israel could face serious repercussions--and find itself pulled into a wider conflagration, given the heightened instability of the region.

Consider the words of Israeli minister Avi Dichter, as reported by Electronic Intifada's Ali Abunimah: "There is no other choice, Israel must carry out a formatting action in Gaza, actually format the system and clean it out, the way we did in Judea and Samaria during Operation Defensive Shield."

As Abunimah explains:

Israel credits these [Operation Defensive Shield massacres in 2002] with turning the Palestinian Authority (PA) into an even more obedient partner of the Israeli army in suppressing Palestinian resistance. In the 2000s, under the supervision of U.S. general Keith Dayton, PA forces were re-made into a more effective Israeli proxy force to suppress any resistance, particularly from Hamas.

Ever since Hamas won Palestinian Legislative Council elections in 2006, Israel has largely been able to count on the PA as collaborators in its war on Gaza. So even as Israel trumpets the "surgical precision" of its military--a claim which a compliant mainstream media promotes--the PA has remained silent in the face of Israel's war crimes.

For years, Israel has alternatively deployed open warfare on the one hand and siege and strangulation on the other in its war to devastate the Palestinian population. In the words of Noam Chomsky, recently returned to the U.S. after making his first trip to Gaza:

It's amazing and inspiring to see people managing somehow to survive as essentially caged animals and subject to constant, random, sadistic punishment only to humiliate them. Israel and the United States keep them alive, basically. They don't want them to starve to death. But it's set up so that you can't have a dignified, decent life. In fact, one of the words you hear most often is "dignity." They would like to have dignified lives. And the standard Israeli position is they shouldn't raise their heads.

And it's a pressure cooker that could blow up. People can't live like that forever...It's an open-air prison...It's constant subjugation to an external force, which has no purpose except to humiliate you. Of course, they have pretexts--everybody has pretexts--but they don't make any sense.

But with the Middle East already on a knife's edge, the stakes are even higher this time around. Around the world, everyone who is concerned about the cause of justice must mobilize to prevent Israel from attempting to repeat the destruction of Gaza's civilian infrastructure and the targeting of Palestinian children that it unleashed during Operation Cast Lead.