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International Socialist Review Issue 35, May–June 2004

ISRAEL: Gearing Up for a New Offensive?


THE DRAMATIC events unfolding in Palestine represent a significant escalation likely to have serious repercussions, not just on the Palestinian national movement and its efforts to resist the Israeli war machine, but across the entire Middle East. Predictably, the corporate media have failed to grasp the gravity of what is at stake, and chooses instead to report on each isolated event, failing to connect the dots. The picture that is revealed, however, appears increasingly ominous.

On March 22, a U.S.-supplied Israeli helicopter gunship assassinated wheelchair-bound Hamas spiritual leader and founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin while he was exiting a mosque in Gaza City. The Yassin assassination was designed to escalate the conflict, with the expected Hamas counterattack providing the pretext for ever more devastating Israeli strikes against the Palestinian resistance. This was necessary to prepare for the implementation of Sharon’s unilateral withdrawal plans from Gaza, scheduled to take place within the coming year. It was also designed to deflect criticism from within the Israel Defense Forces–which have refused to allow the perception that Palestinian resistance was able to extract any political gains from its struggle. Sharon’s withdrawal plans from the Gaza Strip, however tactical, would not have been necessary were it not for this resistance.

In so doing, Israel continues to employ the deliberately provocative tactic of assassination in order to justify its own policies. It has thus often escalated the conflict when the Intifada slowed down, or even sometimes deliberately sabotaged Palestinian cease-fires.

The Yassin assassination, and, more broadly, Israel’s repression of the Intifada, seeks to facilitate implementation of wider Zionist objectives through the "warlike conditions" of a more militarized Intifada. The primary task is to consolidate a final map to impose on the Palestinians–essentially a variation of the South African Bantustans. The plan is based on the original ideas formulated in the Alon plan, which outlines Israel’s strategic objectives for the Occupied Territories. Since its publication only several months after the June 1967 War, every Israeli Prime Minister (from Labor and Likud) has done their part to implement its objectives.

These objectives also include: destroying and dismembering the Palestinian national movement by imprisoning or killing experienced Palestinian activists; increasing Jewish settlement construction (over one hundred new settlement outposts have been constructed since the beginning of this Intifada); and making progress in achieving what Israel terms "demographic separation" through the construction of the 370 km of wall throughout the West Bank–the designated borders of the future Palestinian ghettos.

But Israel hasn’t stopped there. On April 17, Israel assassinated Yassin’s charismatic successor, Abdel Aziz El Rantisi. The strike came only two days after Sharon returned from his tenth trip to the White House, complete with U.S. political guarantees for any "final settlement" to the "conflict"–a settlement which is now imposed through force and without the cosmetic dressing of negotiations needed in previous periods. The guarantees include not only U.S. endorsement of the unilateral separation plan, but also explicit support for the presence of the major Israeli settlement blocks in the West Bank, and an outright rejection of the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and lands from which they were expelled in 1948. Bush’s unprecedented overt endorsement of these Zionist goals exposes the nature of Israel’s strategic role within the architecture of U.S. imperial policies in the Middle East, particularly when the U.S. has other major objectives to fulfill in the region.

Regional implications

Given these developments, it is necessary to consider broader regional implications, particularly if Hamas revenge operations are conducted and deemed sufficiently "mega," in the words of one Israeli commentator.

After one of the last major suicide bombings (which took place in a Haifa restaurant on October 4, 2003, killing twenty-two people), Sharon ordered a strike on Syria. He thus sent the very deliberate and foreboding message that Israel had no qualms escalating the situation into a regional conflagration if resistance to its policies continues. This not so distant history should not be allowed to slip from the consciousness of observers of the events unfolding across the Middle East today, as all indicators show that Israel is poised for a similar escalation.

Possibilities abound, considering that the ideological basis for justifying such measures stems from U.S. adoption of Israeli security doctrines in the "war against terror"–doctrines that permit Israel and the U.S. to strike first and to ask questions later. Take, for example, the possibility of another Israeli strike against Syria. The U.S. backed Israel’s earlier attack, claiming the strike was an "act of self defense." Furthermore, since the U.S. war in Iraq began, the Bush administration has attacked Syria for everything from selling the Iraqis night vision goggles, to letting Arab fighters into Iraq to join the resistance. Syria also remains on the CIA’s list of countries that "aid and abet terrorism," and discussion of sanctions against it have already been widely circulated in Washington. Most recently, the U.S. claimed that an al-Qaeda cell, allegedly uncovered in Jordan plotting bomb attacks against U.S. targets in Amman, was accused of "entering the country via Syria."

This scenario has yet to be played out. But for every day the U.S. is hunkered down in Iraq engaged in what is sure to be a massive and lengthy "pacification" policy to "secure" its control of Iraq, its ability to address other threats to its regional strategic interests are handicapped.

Enter Israel. Israel has always served the interests of its imperial backer, and thus is likely to willingly deploy itself to attend to the laundry list of "unfinished business" in the Middle East, "checking-off" other "pressing needs" of the U.S. and Israel. Those needs, after all, are mutual. One therefore cannot rule out even bloodier attacks against Syria, against Palestinian leaders and factions in Lebanon and Syria, against Hezbollah in Lebanon, and even against Iran’s nuclear reactor.

Who knows what priorities will determine Israel’s actions and when. Though we can only morbidly speculate, we must certainly be sobered by Israel’s historical record. And given this understanding, we must also seriously contemplate whether the current situation is similar to those that preceded 1956, 1967, and 1982–when Israel initiated attacks against Arab countries, claiming self-defense.

One would have to be naive to not notice that, with the U.S. stuck in the "Iraqi quagmire," the possibility of an Israeli-provoked regional escalation has dramatically increased.

Beware brothers and sisters. The generals are coming.

Toufic Haddad is a Palestinian-American activist and writer who edits the radical journal Between the Lines, published from Jerusalem and Ramallah. He is also a frequent contributor to the ISR. He can be reached at [email protected]

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