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The Road to Hell is Paved with Not-So-Good Intentions: Quo Vadis Israel-Palestine?

Missile attacks on Gaza. Credit: UNICEF/Eyad El Baba

NEW YORK, Oct 24 2023 (IPS) - “God Is Truth” – Mahatma Gandhi.
The bloodletting in Israel-Palestine is nothing new, perhaps the ferocity and intensity has become much worse and more frenetic. Ever since the Zionist project to establish a Jewish nation took hold in 1948, and flourished thereafter, the local inhabitants, mostly Arab Muslims and Christians, were displaced in the power equation and became dispossessed in every sense of the word.

Leading to wars between Arab neighbors and Israel, most notably in 1948-1949, 1956, 1967, 1973, 1982, and 2006. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has remained the predominant military in Israel-Palestine.

In the 1980s Israel played a significant role in the creation and promotion of Hamas as a counter to weaken Fatah/PLO. Retired IDF Brigadier General Yitzhak Segev who was the Israeli military governor of Gaza in the early 1980s confessed that the government gave him a budget to engage fringe Palestinian Islamists.

For more details see Mehdi Hassan and Dina Sayedahmed, February 18, 2018, in the Intercept “Blowback: How Israel Went from Helping Create Hamas to Bombing It: Hamas wants to destroy Israel, right? But as Mehdi Hassan shows in a new video on blowback, Israeli officials admit they helped start the group”.

In fact, Hamas was originally viewed as a religious and charitable organization and Sheikh Yassin its founder was feted – a potential rival to Yasser Arafat it was thought at the time by Israeli pundits. For more details see Lorrie Goldstein October 18, 2023, in the Toronto Sun “Goldstein: Israel’s enormous blunder – it helped to create Hamas”.

Today, Hamas has become a veritable monster. Israel is not the first country to engage in such fruitless, disastrous, and ultimately counterproductive dalliances. History is replete with examples of blowback.

In the late 1970s, Indira Gandhi attempted to co-opt Bhindranwale and the Khalistan movement by allowing it to flourish to split Sikh votes and weaken the Akali Dal party, her chief rival in Punjab. After the Khalistan movement reached its pinnacle, it was too late to contain them, as in the case of Hamas today.

Indira Gandhi authorized Field Marshall Sam Manekshaw the Chief of Staff of the Indian Army to plan the 1984 Operation Blue Star, which was executed by LTG Kuldeep Singh Brar, killing Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his followers holed up in Sikhism’s holiest house of worship the Golden Temple in Amritsar, Punjab – akin to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City of Jerusalem.

For more details see Smita Prakash’s podcast on ANI reported in the Economic Times of India “Indira Gandhi let Jarnail Bhindranwale to become Frankenstein monster, claims Operation Blue Star commander”. Sadly, on October 31, 1984, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated at her residence in New Delhi by her two Sikh bodyguards.

The United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) used Operation Cyclone to provide weapons (including stinger manpads to bring down Soviet Hind D helicopter gunships) and finance the Afghan mujahideen in Afghanistan from 1979-1992 to defeat the USSR’s military.

For more details see Steve Coll February 24, 2004 Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001, New York: The Penguin Press. On February 15, 1989, the last Soviet military column occupying Afghanistan withdrew, under the leadership of Colonel-General Boris Gromov.

The mujahideen veterans of the Soviet-Afghan War including Osama bin Laden, Abdullah Azzam, Muhammad Atef, and Ayman al-Zawahiri created Al Qaeda, following a series of meetings in Peshawar, Pakistan in 1988. As the whole world knows, Al Qaeda launched four coordinated suicide terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, against the United States.

On Saturday, October 7, 2023, well before the Festival of Sukkot ended at sundown Hamas launched a vicious, well-planned dawn raid into southern Israel from the Gaza enclave, where Palestinians have been hemmed in for decades in what has been referred to as the world’s largest open-air prison.

The attack was heralded by launching over 5,000 rockets, many likely 122mm Chinese WS-1E design (used as early as August 2008 – 15 years ago). For more details see the report of December 31, 2008, in WIRED “Hamas Fires Long-Range Chinese Rockets at Israel”. According to a report shared privately by a retired senior Indian Army officer (which needs to be independently verified by Israeli sources):

As IDF (Israel Defense Forces) publishes names of KIA (Killed in Action) in Hamas assault, IDF losses are clearer. IDF signals intelligence losses in the first 24 hours was nothing short of catastrophic. Unit 414, the Neshar (Vulture) Battalion, a pivotal piece of the IDF Combat Intelligence Collection Corps, lost 19 personnel KIA and its base infrastructure was heavily damaged during Hamas assault on Camp Urim. Gaza Division Signals Battalion commander was KIA at Camp Re’im, along with the Multidimensional “Ghost” unit commander.

Perhaps even more dramatic were the heavy losses of IDF special forces. All SOF (Special Operations Forces) units which responded to the attacks suffered heavy casualties, both to ambushes prepared by Hamas and also during clearing operations of the Hamas-occupied bases and kibbutzim (civilians had to be rescued despite casualties). Israel’s premier SOF unit Sayaret Matkal suffered 11 KIA, which is 5-10% of its total number of operators. Shayetet 12 naval special forces (another tier 1 unit) lost its unit commander.

The airborne Shaldag special operations unit lost 5 KIA and at least as many heavily injured in multiple engagements. Other losses: 933rd Nahal infantry brigade suffered 23 killed in action at Kerem Shalom checkpoint, including the brigade commander and the commander of the brigade reconnaissance battalion and his deputy. More or less the entire Nahal brigade command cell suffered very heavy losses. Overall, it is clear why IDF command is very, very annoyed, and not just because of the civilian casualties.

The combat losses it suffered on October 7 including from among its most elite units, represents a humiliating defeat for the IDF. Under the pressure of the assault and especially the loss of its HQ at Re’im, IDF Southern Command’s Gaza Division collapsed. SOF units were unable to compensate and were hammered badly. SIGINT personnel and infrastructure were destroyed, key unit commanders were killed. It was a Mess.

So where do we go from here? How do Israelis and Palestinians retain their collective humanity? There are no “good guys and bad guys” in the Israel-Palestine imbroglio. All parties to varying degrees are complicit in the utter savagery visited upon civilians, since the ethnic cleansings of 1948. The last real chance for peace that Israelis and Palestinians had was snuffed out 28 years ago on November 4 when Yitzhak Rabin was murdered in an internecine killing by a fellow Israeli Jew. Yitzhak Rabin had the gravitas and vision to make peace happen. From that time on it has been a downward spiral into the depths of hell, most times willfully.

Successive Israeli governments ratcheted up the pressure by making conditions in Gaza and the West Bank unlivable for the inhabitants – despite withdrawing from the entire Gaza Strip on September 22, 2005. The Israeli settler movement added further misery. We forget Voltaire’s wise words from centuries ago when denouncing the Catholic Church, which is applicable today in Israel: “If we believe in absurdities, we shall commit atrocities”. In June 2007 Hamas took over the Gaza Strip from the Palestinian Authority and the dye was cast with Israel pitted against its monstrous creation from the 1980s.

It has also laid Israel open to external interference. In the case of the October 7, 2023, Hamas attacks, Russia’s fingerprints are all over as British, European, and American top brass and security experts will confirm. Many of Hamas’s leadership studied in Russia and speak Russian. The Israel-Gaza war is a perfect diversionary tactic for Mr. Putin whose War of Aggression in Ukraine is bogged down, taking huge losses. Diverting American and European attention and war fighting men and material to aid Israel is of huge benefit to the Russians and detrimental to the freedom of Ukraine.

In Israel-Palestine, matters became compounded during the last decade that Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud Party and their far-right allies have been at the helm of Israeli government, security, politics, and discourse. Hubris and braggadocio are the hallmarks of a less-than-intelligent approach to dealing with Palestinians in Israel-Palestine. And rather than strengthening the Palestinian Authority, Israel’s most reliable partner to date, efforts were made systematically to undermine it. Leaving the field clear for Hamas to capture imagination of the youth.

It is ironic that Binyamin Netanyahu is still Prime Minister in all but name with mounting Israeli public pressure calling for his resignation. Guest Essay of October 18, 2023, in The New York Times “Netanyahu Led Us to Catastrophe. He Must Go.” Unlike his more famous and honorable predecessor Prime Minister Gold Meir who took responsibility and resigned after the surprise Egyptian attack in 1973 during the Yom Kippur War, a similar momentous event like the attacks that unfolded on October 7, 2023, in southern Israel.

Non-stop aerial bombing of northern Gaza will not solve the crisis. It is not a solution; in fact, it strengthens Hamas in many unintended ways. The only immediate move must be to walk back from the brink, call a ceasefire and halt the planned ground assault of Gaza, and look outside the box that Israel-Palestine in trapped inside.

Israel’s stalwart allies the United States, and the European powers must act as good friends and not provide bad advice in supporting the launch of a ground assault on Gaza. Revenge and counter-revenge lead to a never-ending spiral of bloodletting with no end in sight, generation after generation.

Israel has claimed that after this most recent war in Gaza it will cut ties with the territory. Israel’s custodianship of the occupied territories has been far from ideal, and they have created hellish conditions for Palestinians and Israelis alike – which in all accounts is an unmitigated failure. Egypt ruled Gaza for 250 years and for a short time under President Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1949.

As an immediate stopgap measure, maybe the reluctant Egyptians could be persuaded by the United State and European allies and through the provision of requisite resources to take over Gaza as a protectorate, where civilians can go about their daily lives without the threat of aerial bombardment or fear of medieval sanctions denying water, food, electricity and other basic needs – which is absolutely prohibited under the laws of war, and the Geneva Conventions. Time is fast running out and Israel-Palestine must step back from the brink of hell in the name of humanity.

Purnaka L. de Silva, Ph.D., is Faculty and University Adjunct Professor of the Year 2022, School of Diplomacy and International Relations at Seton Hall University, New Jersey; and Director, Institute for Strategic Studies and Democracy (ISSD) Malta. He was previously Senior Advisor, United Nations Global Compact in the Executive Office of the Secretary-General (EOSG) of Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

IPS UN Bureau


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