A fight to the death?

by The Palimpsest Staff on January 4, 2009

Why Israel went to war in Gaza by Chris McGreal in Jerusalem, The Observer, Sunday 4 January 2009

‘Are you a target if you voted for Hamas?’ Last night Israel sent its ground forces across the border into Gaza as it escalated its brutal assault on Hamas. As a large-scale invasion of the Palestinian territory appears to be getting under way, Chris McGreal reports from Jerusalem on Israel’s hidden strategy to persuade the world of the justice of its cause in its battle with a bitter ideological foe

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It is a war on two fronts. Months ago, as Israel prepared to unleash its latest wave of desolation against Gaza, it recognised that blasting Hamas and “the infrastructure of terror”, which includes police stations, homes and mosques, was a straightforward task.

(Photograph by Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images) Israeli activists wave banners during an antiwar demonstration in Tel Aviv

(Photograph by Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images) Israeli activists wave banners during an antiwar demonstration in Tel Aviv

Israel also understood that a parallel operation would be required to persuade the rest of the world of the justice of its cause, even as the bodies of Palestinian women and children filled the mortuaries, and to ensure that its war was seen not in terms of occupation but of the west’s struggle against terror and confrontation with Iran.

After the debacle of its 2006 invasion of Lebanon – not only a military disaster for Israel, but also a political and diplomatic one – the government in Tel Aviv spent months laying the groundwork at home and abroad for the assault on Gaza with quiet but energetic lobbying of foreign administrations and diplomats, particularly in Europe and parts of the Arab world.

A new information directorate was established to influence the media, with some success. And when the attack began just over a week ago, a tide of diplomats, lobby groups, bloggers and other supporters of Israel were unleashed to hammer home a handful of carefully crafted core messages intended to ensure that Israel was seen as the victim, even as its bombardment killed more than 430 Palestinians over the past week, at least a third of them civilians or policemen.

The unrelenting attack on Gaza, with an air strike every 20 minutes on average, has not stopped Hamas firing rockets that have killed four Israelis since the assault began, reaching deeper into the Jewish state than ever before and sending tens of thousands of people fleeing. Last night Israel escalated its action further, as its troops poured across Gaza’s border, part of what appeared to be a significant ground invasion. And a diplomatic operation is already in full swing to justify the further cost in innocent lives that would almost certainly result.

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