Netanyahu casts himself as player on a world stage

At any other time there would be nothing notable about Benjamin Netanyahu reminding everyone that he thinks that “at the end of the day” there is “no alternative” but to “bring down” Hamas. But at a time when the ostensible aims of the war Israel has waged for 18 days have fallen rather short of that, it can hardly fail to have an impact. The leader of the right-wing opposition party Likud, and the man the polls predict could become prime minister in less than a month’s time chose to do it, moreover, during a fluent session with foreign journalists in which – for much of the time at least – he cast himself as a statesman comfortable on the global stage and determined to remain above party politics at a time of war.

He said he was looking forward, if elected, to working with Senator Hillary Clinton as US Secretary of State, without the slightest hint of the friction that existed between him and her husband, President Bill Clinton, when the Likud leader was prime minister in the Nineties.

Justifying a vote by a Knesset committee this week to ban two Arab parties from contesting the elections, he smoothly quoted a remark by the rationalist philosopher Baruch Spinoza that “democracy allows all the freedoms except the freedom to destroy democracy”. And even at his most bellicose, he eschewed the rhetoric his main rival, Tzipi Livni, has unashamedly used about Israel “going wild”. Instead he declared at one point of the many hundreds of Palestinian casualties: “We grieve for every one of them; we genuinely do,” before adding, inevitably: “But a responsible government does not give immunity to criminal terrorists who fire at us while using civilians as a human shield.” [continued…]

Binyamin Netanyahu demands ‘crippling’ of Hamas

Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s rightwing opposition leader and favourite to win next month’s elections, said today Israel needed a “clear victory” against Hamas and that the movement should “ultimately be removed” from Gaza.

He called for a victory against the Islamist movement “that will cripple its capability” to attack. “At a minimum, the firing of rockets must stop and the smuggling corridors that have enabled Hamas to smuggle thousands of rockets into Gaza must be sealed,” he told a news conference. “We are fighting a just war, perhaps the most just war there is.” [continued…]

Olmert ignoring calls from Barak, Livni for immediate Gaza truce

Defense Minister Ehud Barak is promoting a week-long “humanitarian cease-fire” in the Gaza Strip. In contrast, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert believes the military operation still has not achieved its goals.

Olmert is delaying a meeting with senior ministers in an effort to allow the military operations in Gaza to continue. [continued…]

Diplomats: Gaza op causing long-term harm to Israel’s image

A few days ago, I met a European ambassador stationed in Israel. The man, a great friend of Israel, launched an emotional monologue and spoke from the bottom of his heart.

“Make no mistake,” he said. “I understand why you embarked on the operation in Gaza, and many of my colleagues also understand and even support it, but a few days ago you started to cross red lines.”

The ambassador continued, reiterating his support and his love for Israel. “We too would like to damage Hamas, we too would not sit by quietly if they were firing rockets at us,” he said. “It was clear to us that innocent people would be hurt in any operation in Gaza, and we were prepared to accept that up to certain limit, but in the past few days it seems that your action is getting out of control, and the harm to civilians is tremendous.”

The straw that broke the camel’s back for that ambassador was the Red Cross report from Gaza that small children had been found wounded, near the corpses of their mothers, under the ruins of their homes, and other reports of civilians on the verge of dying in places ambulances could not reach because of the fighting.

“The international organizations in Gaza are talking about 200 dead children,” he said. “I don’t know how to explain these things to myself, never mind to my government,” added the ambassador. “Your action is brutal and you don’t realize how much damage this is causing you in the world. This is not only short term. It’s damage for years. Is this the Israel you want to be?” [continued…]

British parliamentarian says Israeli leaders are ‘mass-murderers and war criminals’

A statement by the British foreign minister David Miliband on “the appalling situation in Gaza” drew strong responses from both sides of parliament.

The Labour Member of Parliament Peter Kilfoyle asked the minister to “undertake to ensure that no arms at all go to Israel at the moment, given that it is guilty in many people’s eyes of state-sponsored terrorism with its activities in the Gaza strip”.

The Conservative MP Sir Patrick Cormack asked the minister to inform Britain’s Israeli ambassador “that many of us who have been in this House for a very long time and who have been proud to call ourselves friends of Israel now feel ashamed because Israel is not behaving as a civilised state should behave”.

The Labour MP Sir Gerald Kaufman said: “In congratulating [Mr Miliband] on steering resolution 1860 [calling for an immediate ceasefire] through the United Nations Security Council, may I ask him what the international reaction would be if Hamas had slaughtered nearly 900 Israelis and subjected nearly 1.5 million Israelis to degradation and deprivation? Is it not an incontrovertible fact that Olmert, Livni and Barak are mass-murderers and war criminals – [Interruption.] Yes. And they bring shame on the Jewish people whose star of David they use as a flag in Gaza, but whose ethos and morals go completely against what this Israeli government are doing.”

The MP Marsha Sing pointed out that condemnation has brought no relief to the people of Gaza. “The killing goes on. Is it not time for stronger action? Is it not time that we expelled the ambassador of Israel and brought our ambassador back from Israel? Is it not time that we called for international sanctions against Israel?” [continued…]

Hamas may survive offensive, Israel says

Israeli military officials said Tuesday that their 18-day offensive in the Gaza Strip had weakened Hamas but that a knockout blow was unlikely. The conflict showed no signs of ending as diplomats reported little progress in negotiating a cease-fire.

The Israeli officials said their strategy was to squeeze Hamas militarily as they try to pressure the Islamist movement into a truce that would include a long-term commitment to stop firing rockets into southern Israel. Some Hamas leaders have said they are willing to cut a deal, but others have pledged to continue fighting.

Despite public vows by Israeli politicians to destroy Hamas’s military capability, Israeli officials said Tuesday that the movement had lost only a fraction of its fighters and retained a large stockpile of rockets and other armaments. A “few hundred” Hamas fighters have been killed, out of a total force of 15,000, according to a senior Israeli military official. [continued…]

The War in Gaza: A view from the Arab street

The round of international diplomacy that has just concluded has left this part of the Arab world incredulous, extremely angry and polarised. The demonstrations in Syria this weekend were marked by use of extreme slogans seldom heard in public, and images of Osama bin Laden were paraded at protests in Jordan. The feel is of strategic tremors that hint at some fundamental shifting of the plates of Muslim opinion.

The searing images emerging from Gaza have long since undergone a subconscious transfiguration: from originally being about Hamas they have metamorphosed into an archetypal image of Israel attacking the Gazan people, the Palestinian people and Islam. Happening as they did during Ashura, the Shia commemoration of the martyrdom of Hussein – providing the backdrop to the speeches by the Secretary General of Hezbollah Sayed Hassan Nasrallah that have gripped the region – the attacks have Islamiised political discourse and given events in Gaza the aura of Hussein’s sacrifice in the face of injustice. [continued…]

Gaza: A pawn in the new ‘great game’

As Europeans watch the humanitarian disaster in Gaza unfold on nightly news bulletins, many may wonder why this crisis seems to have left their governments groping in such apparent fumbling disarray. The answer is that it is the result of policies pulling in opposite directions – of an acute irreconcilability at the heart of their policy-making.

What has happened in Gaza was all too foreseeable. A few Israelis forewarned about this coming crisis, but the appeal of the “grand narrative” – of a global struggle between “moderates” and “extremists” – overrode their warnings to the Israeli electorate.

The thesis that literally “everything” must be done either to lever “moderates” into power, or prevent them from losing power – euphemistically called “supporting moderation” – lies at the heart of the Gaza crisis. [continued…]

When Israel expelled Palestinians

In the wake of Israel’s invasion of Gaza, Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak made this analogy: “Think about what would happen if for seven years rockets had been fired at San Diego, California from Tijuana, Mexico.”

Within hours scores of American pundits and politicians had mimicked Barak’s comparisons almost verbatim. In fact, in this very paper on January 9 House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and House Minority Whip Eric Cantor ended an opinion piece by saying “America would never sit still if terrorists were lobbing missiles across our border into Texas or Montana.” But let’s see if our political and pundit class can parrot this analogy.

Think about what would happen if San Diego expelled most of its Hispanic, African American, Asian American, and Native American population, about 48 percent of the total, and forcibly relocated them to Tijuana? Not just immigrants, but even those who have lived in this country for many generations. Not just the unemployed or the criminals or the America haters, but the school teachers, the small business owners, the soldiers, even the baseball players. [continued…]

‘Bin Laden’ recording calls for holy war over Gaza conflict

A new audio message purportedly from the al-Qaida leader, Osama bin Laden, has called for all Muslims to launch a holy war to stop the Israeli offensive in Gaza, according to Islamist websites.

The recording, which the websites said was by Bin Laden, also condemned Arab governments for preventing their people from acting to “liberate Palestine”.

“Our brothers in Palestine, you have suffered a lot … the Muslims sympathise with you in what they see and hear. We, the mujahideen, sympathise with you also,” Reuters reported the speaker as saying in the 22-minute tape titled A Call for Jihad to Stop the Aggression Against Gaza. “We are with you and we will not let you down. Our fate is tied to yours in fighting the crusader-Zionist coalition, in fighting until victory or martyrdom.” [continued…]

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