Newly instated Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, of the far-right wing Yamina Party, decided to continue launching airstrikes upon the besieged Gaza Strip in order to posture as “tough on Gaza” and may have made a vital mistake.
Early last Wednesday morning (Palestine local time) Israeli airstrikes were launched into two separate areas of the Gaza Strip, officially breaking a ceasefire which had largely held since the 21st of May. The unconditional ceasefire was seen as something of a break from hostilities, after an 11-day round of fighting between Gaza’s armed groups and Israel claimed the lives of around 270 Palestinians and 12 Israeli’s (officially).
Last month’s ceasefire was a shaky one, with its unconditional nature making it hard to tell exactly what the respective red lines were between the two sides. From the first day of the ceasefire Israel sent its armed occupation forces again into the al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem, running large scale arrest campaigns of thousands of Palestinian citizens of Israel, and those residing in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Israel has also prevented Qatari aid money from entering Gaza for reconstruction, as well as much of the equipment for rebuilding thousands of homes destroyed by Israeli airstrikes.
On top of this, Israel ran provocative mock raids, incursions with militarized bulldozers into Palestinian farmland and a drone swarm operation, triggering air defense fire from Gaza. From the Gaza Strip, balloons with burning objects attached to them had been sent, by young men and teenagers, over the separation fence and burned some fields belonging to Israeli settlers.
During this time Benjamin Netanyahu was still Prime Minister and it seemed as if the ceasefire, although not securely, was holding and that neither side was aggressing more than has been usually the case during the past 15 years of the Gaza siege.
When Naftali Bennett came into power, however, he instantly took off to a more extreme start. On his second day in office he allowed for an extremist settler march to take place in Jerusalem, where racist settlers stormed Palestinian areas of Jerusalem and chanted “death to Arabs”, a move that had factored into the escalation seen last month. He then also decided that balloons sent from Gaza, which often land in Israeli settlement areas and cause fires, are to be treated the same as rockets being fired at Israel. This means that the Israeli response is to bombard Gaza.
The justification for Israel breaking the ceasefire was that balloons were sent over the separation fence, but this is clearly not the case. In response to provocative Israeli moves over the past month, there have been multiple cases of balloons being let off across the fence with no bombing as a response to it. It was largely understood that the ceasefire meant no bombing by Israel and no rocket fire or skirmishes with Israeli soldiers from Gaza. Israel managed to change this narrative, in all but five seconds, with Western media outlets performing damage control and adopting their excuses.
The reality is that Naftali Bennett had come under great pressure to follow up on his promise of being tougher on Gaza and that he would hold to his word that balloons would be treated the same as rocket fire. On Wednesday, an Israeli government official told Egyptian intermediaries that if incendiary balloons are to continue, Israel is prepared to go to war over it.
The armed groups in Gaza did not respond on Wednesday to Israel’s breach of the ceasefire, causing anxiety amongst many Israeli’s according to local analysts. It seems that the armed groups sought to ensure that the Israeli settlers would be prevented from storming the al-Aqsa compound as a top priority and when Bennett’s government communicated that it had changed the settler march route, this was viewed widely as a win against Israel. Hamas was effectively able to deter Israel from facilitating it’s settlers plan of storming al-Aqsa, which has seemingly enraged many Israelis who see this as their government bowing to Hamas.
It has become clear that the Israeli government and military establishment seek to avoid, at all costs, the scenario which played out last month. This means effectively working to divide Gaza’s armed groups from the people of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Palestinian citizens of Israel. When all groups revolt together, the force Israel faces is overwhelming and extremely costly. For Israel to escalate significantly in Jerusalem would be to unite the Palestinians once again and put the armed groups in Gaza in a good position from which to launch an offensive.
However, if Israel is able to isolate Gaza, and it’s only the armed groups fighting against Israel alone, then it is possible to just inflict massive civilian casualties on Gaza in a bid to beat down their spirits. This is the only current option that the Israeli military has, as it will not risk a ground invasion of the besieged coastal enclave.
In response to this Thursday’s bombardment of Beit Lahia (North Gaza), Jabalia (North), Gaza City and Khan Yunis (South), the armed groups shot down an Israeli drone and opened fire upon Israeli fighter jets. There were also reports that two rockets were fired into open areas surrounding Gaza, however there was never any confirmation of whether this happened at all or which group had potentially been behind it.
It seems as if the armed groups in the Gaza Strip are now behaving in a very strategic manner and are allowing for Israel to act emotionally in order for them to capitalize. The last thing that the armed groups want is to put Gaza’s civilians in danger of a possible Israeli attack when there is no united resistance against Israel. We see this in the lack of responses to Israel’s provocative and rather childish offensive actions. The positive side of this is that the Palestinian resistance is no longer acting out of sheer emotion but are looking to read Israel politically and draw them into confrontations on their own terms. Yet the problem remains; how far will the Israeli government go under Naftali Bennett’s command when it comes to its planned massacres of Gaza’s civilian population?