Gaza conflict: world holds its breath for first Netanyahu war
Israeli attack that killed Ahmed al-Jabari was huge gamble that could have major repercussions
THE ISRAELI airstrikes in Gaza, which killed the head of the military wing of Hamas yesterday, mark a serious escalation in hostilities in the region as Israel responds to increased Palestinian rocket attacks with its 'Operation Pillar of Defence'.
Ahmed al-Jabari was killed when his car was hit in one of several airstrikes on Gaza City. Palestinians have responded with renewed rocket fire over the border into Israel. One rocket that landed in the town of Kiryat Malachi, 15 miles north of Gaza, killed three Israelis, it was reported at 8.15 GMT today.
Shin Bet, Israel's general security service, said the killing of Jabari was "a message to Hamas officials in Gaza that if they continue promoting terrorism against Israel, they will be hurt". Israeli troops are said to be on standby for a ground invasion of Gaza.
With both the Israelis and Hamas threatening an escalation of violence, President Obama has telephoned Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister. The Times reports that both two leaders agreed that Hamas needs to stop its attacks on Israel to allow tensions to ease.
Obama also called Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi. The White House said they agreed on the need to de-escalate the conflict as quickly as possible.
But many observers now fear we are on the verge of the first serious conflict since the three-week Gaza War - or 'Operation Cast Lead' - in the winter of 2008-09, when more than 1,000 Palestinians and 13 Israelis died.
Israel is taking an "enormous" risk with Operation Pillar of Defence, says The Guardian's Harriet Sherwood, because the Israelis are taking on more than just their arch-enemy Hamas. "In Gaza itself, the emergence of radical militant organisations, largely beyond the control of the ruling Hamas, make the consequences of Israel's operation highly unpredictable."
The action may have been prompted by domestic concerns, says the New York Times. "The attacks on Gaza were undertaken at a delicate time for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, nine weeks before elections, and may have partly reflected his administration's own sense that it needed to send a message of deterrence beyond Gaza."
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz makes the point that if there is a war, it will be Netanyahu's first. Only a month ago he used a Knesset speech to accuse his predecessor Ehud Olmert of entering "two unnecessary wars" - the Second Lebanon War and Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.
"In all my years in office I haven't declare a war," boasted Netanyahu, who has served on and off as Israel's prime minister for a total of seven years.
Yet, as Haaretz points out, Netanyahu supported the 2008-09 attack on Gaza at the time and indeed complained afterwards that Hamas's rule had not been crushed. "Now he is at the helm and presumably he too wants to topple and shatter Hamas' rule," says Haaretz.
"All this is grimly familiar," writes David Blair in The Daily Telegraph, "and, superficially, the parallels with the sudden outbreak of the last Gaza war on 27 December 2008 are uncanny. Then, as now, an Israeli election was approaching and Hamas appeared to miscalculate."