As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

The War In Gaza

The news out of Gaza is quite terrible. Israeli forces have moved deeply inside the strip and bisected the country. To soften up the defenses from Hamas, the ground invasion was preceded by a shock and awe artillery strike and aerial bombing, which allegedly included banned weaponry.

The ground invasion was preceded by large-scale artillery shelling from around 4 P.M., intended to "soften" the targets as artillery batteries deployed along the Strip in recent days began bombarding Hamas targets and open areas near the border. Hundreds of shells were fired, including cluster bombs aimed at open areas.

Cluster bombs are nasty, and most of the deaths from them typically are civilians who step on unexploded ordnance. There are other credible reports that the IDF has used white phosphorous, which is a banned substance.

One example of this is the use of White Phosphorus rounds in a way where the phosphorus does not burn off before it hits the ground. Phosphorus burns more or less on contact with air, and keeps burning until deprived of oxygen. People who suffer phosphorus burns not only have terrible burns, but they absorb the phosphorus through the skin, and suffer acute phosphorus poisoning. This used to be more common than it is, because phosphorus was used in friction matches and in industrial processes, it was sold for rat poison. During World War II, it was dropped on London as part of "the blitz." In the 1940's it was called by one journal article a menace to public health after noting that 50% of the people admitted for phosphorous poisoning died, as compared to 6% of all other non-alcohol poisonings.

So while using phosphorus rounds itself isn't against the relevant treaties, using it in a way that takes advantage of its toxic qualities makes it a chemical weapon, and it is completely inconsistent with any claim to be cautious or worrying about civilian loss of life to use it in a populated area, and allowing it to fall to the ground.

FDL has more.

Aside from the atrocities (which really shouldn't be put aside), I'm still wondering what Israel hopes to achieve. The standard claim is that they want to stop the rocket fire into Sderot and points south from Hamas. But outside of emptying Gaza of people, I can't see how this ground invasion will actually accomplish that. Not even the residents of Southern Israel think so.

"It's the same as usual," Peled, the community's security coordinator, said as he stood in a wheat field examining the mangled remains of a 19mm Qassam rocket that had slammed down minutes before. "They probably built this one just a couple days ago. It's brand new."

Since the Israeli offensive began nine days ago, the country's leaders have insisted that Israel's largest military operation in Gaza since its troops withdrew in 2005 would not stop until it ended the Hamas rocket fire. But residents of southern Israel have no such expectations. The rockets, they say, will go on despite what Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak described as an "all-out war" on the armed Islamist group that runs Gaza [...]

Most of the Qassams, Katyushas and mortar shells fired from Gaza have fallen without causing damage. But four Israelis have been killed in the barrage, while other strikes have caused injuries or destroyed buildings. Cities once believed to be beyond the range of rocket fire from Gaza -- including Ashdod and Beersheba -- have been hit regularly in the past week.

"I hope the invasion succeeds," said Peled, 65, who is responsible for finding the rockets after they land and making sure they have detonated. "But after so many years, it's difficult to believe this will work."

In fact, even if Hamas is disarms and overthrown - which Israel has stated is NOT their policy - there are other radical elements inside Gaza who could be strengthened by a weakened Hamas. The Salafists would be even worse than Hamas to deal with on Israel's southern border (think Al Qaeda in Palestine), and indeed the history of this conflict is a radical actor in the Palestinian territories replaced by an even more radical adversary. We have this notion that there is one radical Islamist unified front, but it's not true, and picking winners and losers often has unintended consequences.

Instead of airstrikes and ground attacks, why not talk to the enemy, as this former head of Mossad suggests.

The former head of the Mossad intelligence service, Ephraim Halevy, argues that ultimately it may be in Israel's interest to negotiate with Hamas if it helps to curb Hamas's political influence.

Alpher agrees that Israel should talk to Hamas. "Hamas doesn't want to talk to us ... just as Hezbollah doesn't want to talk to us, they don't recognise us. But as a strategic approach to Hamas, the offer to talk and recognise is another viable option which we have not taken."

Obviously, with an election coming in Israel, this is not going to happen. But ultimately, it's the only end to the conflict, and one wonders if the Israelis are learning from their losing of the propaganda war inside the United States, that bluster and neoconservative maneuvering has no home anywhere in the world anymore.

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