Hamas fighters testing a Gaza-made M-75 long-range missile, November 2013 / Getty Images
Maariv’s Eli Bardenstein offered a stunningly clear and disturbing report (in Hebrew, my translation below) on Friday that illustrates the vexing complications introduced into the triangular Jerusalem-Cairo-Gaza relationship by political turmoil in all three places. It makes a very useful companion piece to today’s front-page New York Times report by Jodi Rudoren on Israeli jitters over instability on its eastern front.
In both cases, as Bardenstein notes and Rudoren sort of hints, the Netanyahu government is ignoring the intelligence supplied by its own security establishment, which shows jihadi organizations making life difficult for both Hezbollah in the north and Hamas in the south. The jihadis are creating turmoil, launching pinprick attacks on Israel that violate cease-fire agreements between Israel and Hezbollah and Hamas respectively. Hamas and Hezbollah are both besieged — Hamas by the new, anti-Islamist Egyptian military government, Hezbollah by jihadi spillover from the Syrian civil war (as well as political blowback from the Rafiq Hariri murder trial now underway in The Hague) — and are finding it increasingly difficult to enforce their respective cease-fires with Israel. Israel — meaning principally defense minister Moshe Yaalon — chooses to ignore the intelligence, blame Hamas and Hezbollah and launch military responses that only further weaken Hamas and Hezbollah and strengthen the jihadis.
I’ve translated Bardenstein’s piece below, but here’s the gist: Israel is alarmed at the unraveling of the November 2012 Pillar of Defense cease-fire “understandings” and the increasing rocket fire from Gaza — 17 rockets fired in January alone as of Friday (and more since then). It wants Egypt, which acts as mediator between Israel and Hamas, to pressure Hamas to stop the rocket fire. But Egypt has lost influence over Hamas since the military deposed the Muslim Brotherhood government of Mohamed Morsi last July. The military government’s approach is not to work with Hamas as Morsi did but to crack down on it.
Hamas, in turn, complains that the Egyptian crackdown — particularly the mass destruction of smuggling tunnels, which squeezes the Gaza economy — weakens Hamas rule and reduces its ability to control the jihadi organizations that are doing the firing. And both Cairo and Hamas complain that Israel has been making the situation worse by Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon’s insistence on responding to every single rocket launching, no matter how ineffectual, with aerial bombardment.
Ehud Barak, the Israeli defense minister, was warned by Israeli government attorneys this week to leave England and head home after Palestinians filed suit for an international arrest warrant on war crimes charges.
Barak decided to ignore the warning and continue his visit, according to reports in Haaretz and Ynet/Yediot. He was scheduled to meet on Tuesday with Prime Minister Gordon Brown and on Wednesday with Foreign Minister David Miliband. He’s also scheduled to address a Labour Friends of Israel event at the annual Labour Party conference taking place in Brighton this week.
Barak is the second ranking Israeli official to face possible arrest in Britain under the legal principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows countries to arrest and try foreign nationals for crimes committed in another country. Retired General Doron Almog, former chief of Israel’s southern command, went to England in September 2005 to address a conference on childhood autism, but returned home without even leaving his plane after Israel’s London embassy warned him about a warrant for his arrest in relation to the July 2002 airstrike against Gaza Hamas leader Salah Shehada, which killed 14 people including nine children. Britain later canceled the warrant.
The case against Barak is reportedly based on the Gaza war last winter. It comes just a few weeks after the release of the Goldstone Report, commissioned by the United Nations Human Rights Council, on alleged war crimes in Gaza. The London suit doesn’t appear to be related directly to the report – except for the fact that it would be neutralized, along with other universal jurisdiction efforts against it, including the Goldstone allegations, if Israel were to mount a serious, independent investigation into Gaza-related allegations, along the lines of the acclaimed investigations it launched following the 1973 and 1982 wars. So far the Netanyahu government refuses.
Haaretz columnist Brad Burston recently wrote a powerful piece on the mounting efforts by Palestinians and human rights activists to isolate Israel, and the damage it does to the cause of peace they claim to be pursuing. It’s a cry from an increasingly helpless Israeli left, marginalized at home and now abandoned by its supposed allies abroad.
Here’s Doron Almog discussing the 2005 incident:
Here’s a British news report from last spring that sympathetically describes universal jurisdiction cases against Israel currently working their way through Spanish courts – also stemming from the Shehada bombing:
Here’s Philippines legal scholar Ralph Sarmiento discussing the legal theories behind universal jurisdiction:
Here’s Bob Dylan on the harmonica at a Chabad event, accompanying his son-in-law Peter Himmelman and actor Harry Dean Stanton in a lively if somewhat off-key rendition of Hava Nagila.