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For Israel, a security situation that had been contained and politically tolerable – zero or very infrequent rocket attacks on the south by groups other than Hamas – tilted with Hamas’ decision to start shooting again, and with new weapons.
Israel says the aim of Operation Pillar of Defence is not to re-occupy Gaza, or root out Islamists. It is to destroy long-range rockets such as the Fajr 5 from Iran that Hamas has acquired since 2009 and to disable Gaza’s rocket capacity “for a very long time”, said foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor.
Could there be ancillary motives? Alastair Newton at Nomura Global Markets writes in a note to clients that “militants in Gaza have been building up stocks of missiles…and there does appear to have been an up-tick in missile attacks”.
“However,” he adds, “an Israeli general election is now just two months away … Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party has historically benefited from pre-election security concerns, which this latest conflict is likely to exacerbate.”
Although a vast majority of Israelis supports the operation, a high body count could reduce popular backing.
Another vote is also looming – one that the secular government of President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank wants to bring in the United Nations General Assembly by the end of November to give the Palestinians a diplomatic upgrade.
Israel says this drive for U.N. recognition of a state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem is “diplomatic terrorism”. It has threatened to topple Abbas, who is regularly derided by Hamas for not supporting their armed resistance.
Abbas himself is convinced the Gaza campaign is designed to sink his initiative, but has vowed to plough on. “Everything that is happening is in order to block our endeavours to reach the United Nations,” he said on Friday.
Israeli columnist Uri Dromi says Israel should remember that its Palestinian neighbours in the West Bank “are still committed to a two-state solution, namely, sharing the neighbourhood”.