Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Operation Cast Lead, phase III

As of 5pm yesterday, Israel's army had succeeded in killing at least 971 Palestinians and injuring at least 4,418 of them (see OCHA report [pdf]). Obviously, this is a crude body count rather than an estimate, and therefore leaves out the unknown number of corpses stuck under the rubble and left in areas where fighting is ongoing, or where the Israelis have sealed off and prevented medical staff from entering. 40% of the dead, and 50% of the wounded, were women and children. Among the dead are civilians gunned down while fleeing their homes under orders from the IDF, and clutching little white flags. Among the wounded are those suffering burns from white phosphorus, which has reportedly been fired into refugee camps. That's right - they decided to douse civilians hiding from the fighting with a substance that is known to melt the flesh to the bone. Just to show them.

Such recreational malevolence continues to undermine Israel's elaborate propaganda campaign, (as does its own inability to stick to its story). The UN has repeatedly accused Israel of committing war crimes, and there may now be a referral to the International Court of Justice which, although it is a toothless advisory body, can give Israel a PR bloody nose. Even David Miliband, the Blairite foreign secretary who demands a ceasefire 'on all sides', is supporting demands for a war crimes investigation. Of course, what he ought to be doing is expelling the Israeli ambassador and cancelling all arms shipments to Israel - but that would imply that he was somehow serious about all that 'war crimes' stuff. Mainstream parliamentarians such as Gerald Kaufman are denouncing Israel in the most forceful terms: "Olmert, (Tzipi] Livni and (Ehud] Barak are mass murderers, war criminals and bring shame on the Jewish people whose Star of David they use as a badge in Gaza.". The US media is increasingly, if reluctantly, offering critical viewpoints. Time magazine worries that Israel may be losing the media war. Ha'aretz reports that there is an increasing view outside of Israel that its image in the world has been "destroyed".

However that may be, most of the Western media and almost the entirety of the US political class supports the war. Most of the Israeli public do too, and even the peace camp is invoking comparisons with Fallujah to mitigate(!) Israel's crimes in Gaza. And there is no substitute for success - perhaps Israel's rulers calculate that if they can pull off something that could be called a victory, much of the criticism and complaining will stop. Now, as the swelling army marches into Gaza City behind a fleet of tanks, the Israeli government has let it be known that you ain't seen nothing yet. Phase III of Operation Cast Lead is in the pipeline.

'Hubris' is an over-worked phrase, but if there ever was an example of a state enraptured by its own sense of omnipotence, Israel is it. What else could possibly explain Olmert bragging that he orders his paymasters about? Such mafiosi-style swaggering is stupid and pathetic. You really get the impression that in being so limitlessly cruel, in humiliating the Palestinians with such gleeful vigour, the Israeli elite is starting to buy its own bullshit. There is no doubt that Israel can terrorise the largely defenseless Palestinian people and destroy Gaza's infrastructure, but it is increasingly in doubt that they can obtain a political victory. Such a victory would entail crushing Hamas politically and forcing them to accept the reassertion of Fatah's rule in the Gaza strip. This is what the US is planning for.

But Israeli intelligence says that Hamas' military capacity remains unbroken, while news reports indicate that the factions in Gaza have been driven together by Israel's attack. Even Fatah's Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade is back in action, claiming to have killed and wounded 20 Israeli soldiers in a suicide attack. Not only is Hamas more popular in Gaza, it is also gaining support in the West Bank, despite the best effort of Abbas' thugs to suppress its public expression. According to some analysis, Israel's leadership has been divided on what to do next. While there are no plans to rebuild Gush Katif, Olmert and most of the military establishment (who express fear of another Lebanon-style ceasefire) have advocated the prosecution of a more intense ground attack. Livni and Barak would apparently withdraw and leave open the option to attack Gaza at any time in the future, without warning. But, since the reservists have been sent in there and are entering Gaza City, one has to suppose that the Phase III escalation is going ahead. The rate of atrocity is about to increase.