Why Israel, Under Siege from All Sides, Stands Firm
Policy + Politics

Why Israel, Under Siege from All Sides, Stands Firm

REUTERS/Baz Ratner

Hamas, the terrorist organization engaged in a quickly evolving war with Israel, fired rockets toward Tel Aviv this weekend – rejecting the U.N.-requested extension of the 12-hour humanitarian ceasefire. In doing so, the group has restarted the age-old conflict after Israel had briefly paused the battle while giving credence to Israeli arguments about why it continues to fight.

The short-lived peace allowed Palestinians to assess the damage done by the Israeli Defense Force during the 19-day conflict. Multiple reports are indicating that homes, buildings and mosques across the West Bank have been destroyed by Israeli artillery. More than 1,000 Palestinians have been killed and 6,000 have been wounded during the conflict, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

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“It will take more than 12 hours to dig them out,” Yussif Abid al-Hamid, an emergency medical technician, told The Washington Post. “We need heavy equipment here. We need earthmovers. We can’t dig with our bare hands.”

Israel, meanwhile, which has suffered 43 casualties – of which 40 were soldiers – pledged Friday that it would not continue the fight unless provoked by Hamas.

“At the end of the operation, Hamas will have to think very hard if it is worth it to taunt us in the future,” Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said Friday. “You need to be ready for the possibility that very soon we will order the military to significantly broaden ground activity in Gaza."

The fact that Hamas taunted Israel just hours after the ceasefire ended shows how little regard the group has for innocent Palestinians injured or killed in the conflict. While the group has many sympathizers in Gaza, its actual membership is small and difficult for Israeli forces to effectively target.

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The break in action also hurt the Israelis, who have been criticized by the international community for what some have called a disproportion response to Hamas provocations. The new scope of damage allowed by the ceasefire has done nothing to deafen these accusations, including formal rebukes from Brazil and Ecuador.

“This is an unfortunate demonstration of why Brazil, an economic and cultural giant, remains a diplomatic dwarf,” Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said on Thursday, according to the Jerusalem Post, in response to Brazil’s statement. “The moral relativism behind this move makes Brazil an irrelevant diplomatic partner, one who creates problems rather than contributes to solutions.”

Yet these comments do little to dispel an uncomfortable truth for Tel Aviv: Israel is a country under siege, both and home, in its own neighborhood, and from foreign shores.

Countries and groups that have called for the dissolution of the Israeli state surround it; it has fought and won numerous wars to defend its right to exist. Not far from home, the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (ISIS), which now has its own army, has set its sights on Israeli territory. Within its own borders, Israel is fighting a largely faceless group of terrorists backed by Iran, which has a sophisticated network of tunnels below Israel that allow them to attacks quickly and stealthily. Israeli officials say these tactics justify their harsh response.

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“What Hamas is doing very cynically is embedding its rocketeers, its rocket cashes, its tunnels — these terror tunnels in homes, in hospitals, in schools, and when we take action, as targeted as we can, they then use their civilians as human shields,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last week. “So Hamas is both targeting civilians and Hamas is hiding behind civilians. That’s a double war crime, and therefore all civilian deaths as regrettable as they are fall on their shoulders.”

He added, “They’re digging these terror tunnels from Gaza, from homes in Gaza to penetrate and infiltrate Israeli territory. They emerged and killed Israelis and run back or try and run back into their territory, so we’ve had to take actions.”

Isolated Internationally
Israel’s resolve to defend itself has isolated it internationally. Across the world, tens of thousands of people have protested its actions during this war. The international media has run repeated stories about the deaths of Palestinians.

Part of this is Israel’s fault; an Israeli shell killed four Palestinian children as reporters watched, and Israeli rockets recently hit a United Nations school sheltering refugees from the fighting, skewering coverage against Israel. However, this is also part of a broader trend: Outside of America, where the public broadly backs Israel, world opinion has long been trending against Tel Aviv.

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This shift of opinion comes at a dangerous time, especially in Europe. Far-right parties, some of which are openly anti-Semitic, have been elected to the European Parliament in France. In Berlin, the capital of the country that was directly responsible for the murder of six million Jews during the Holocaust, thousands of pro-Palestine marchers took to the streets Friday, some carrying anti-Semitic signs.

Even Israel’s relations with the United States, its closet ally, are fraying. There are conflicting reports over whether the Israeli parliament rejected a ceasefire floated by Secretary of State John Kerry, who has misread the Middle East since taking the job.

After the Israeli rebuff, Kerry retreated to Paris, where he met with other diplomats in an attempt to form a ceasefire. But as Chemi Shalev points out in a Haaretz commentary, Kerry’s track record does not inspire confidence.

“One can’t deny Kerry’s almost inexplicable series of mishaps, faux pas and unfortunate events,” Shalev said. “Increasingly, Kerry comes across as a hapless nebekh, which many Americans pronounce as nebbish.”

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