A Closer Look at New Gaza Conflict

The new round of violence between Israel and Palestinians in Gaza is receiving the typical U.S. media treatment, blaming Hamas and absolving Israel. But the origins of the latest clashes are much more complex than that simplistic and one-sided version, writes ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

There they go again, another tragic upsurge in the violent tit-for-tat between Israel and Hamas. As with most tit-for-tat contests, at each stage each side can point to what the other side just did as an action that warrants retaliation.

Often the story that reaches American ears is instead more lopsided: a story of Hamas firing rockets and Israel responding with armed force. But the actual process is very much two-way, with Hamas responding to Israeli violence at least as much as the other way around.

Hamas military commander Ahmed Jabari, assassinated by an Israeli military strike.

Hamas had endeavored to maintain a cease-fire, despite difficulty in controlling the actions of smaller, more militant groups that have a presence in the Gaza Strip, most of the time since Operation Cast Lead, the brutal Israeli invasion of the Strip almost four years ago. That war resulted in 1,400 Palestinian deaths, probably over half of whom were noncombatants. (Israeli deaths in the war totaled three noncombatants and ten soldiers, four of whom were killed by friendly fire.)

But Hamas, as the only government the residents of the Gaza Strip have to turn to for security, came under increasing pressure from those residents to respond forcefully to Israeli actions that continued to claim Palestinian victims.

As Phyllis Bennis points out, who appears to be retaliating against whom depends on when you start the clock. Most American media accounts have begun coverage of the latest rounds of violence with a Palestinian attack on Israeli soldiers on Nov. 8. Less noticed in the coverage was that the soldiers were part of an element of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), including four tanks and an armored bulldozer, that was operating inside the Gaza Strip at the time.

Exactly what those operations included is still unclear, but the IDF did later say it was “investigating” the death of an 11-year-old boy that day. Within the next three days the Palestinian Center for Human Rights documented the deaths of five more Palestinian civilians, including three children, with 52 other civilians wounded. Most of the casualties were incurred in a single Israeli attack on a playground soccer field.

The ensuing two-way violence continued until Egypt was able to mediate a short-lived cease-fire, broken when Israel launched this Wednesday a substantial aerial attack, including the assassination of a senior Hamas leader, Ahmed Jabari.

Israel, of course, has far greater and more sophisticated means (much of it U.S.-supplied) of inflicting death and destruction than does Hamas. The different means tend to carry different labels: ground-launched rockets are called terrorism, while the operations of attack aircraft are called a nation defending its borders.

That difference in capability also helps to explain why Israel is the side that perpetrates the most marked escalations in this violent dialogue. If Hamas had anything approaching Israel’s capabilities, it probably would feel obliged to respond right now to Israel’s actions with much more deadly operations than anything it has been able to muster so far.

But then again, if it did have such capabilities, there would be a major element of deterrence that would almost certainly dissuade Israeli leaders from perpetrating anything like the violence they have in fact inflicted.

The United States has no national interest in taking sides in any of this lethal tit-for-tat. And yet, to its own disadvantage and discredit, it does take sides. The statement the State Department issued on Wednesday “strongly condemns” rocket fire coming out of Gaza, says there is “no justification” for the “cowardly acts” of “Hamas and other terrorist organizations,” talks about Hamas attacking Israel “on a near daily basis” and supports “Israel’s right to defend itself.”

The closest the statement comes to even a pretense of recognition of the, substantially greater, pain and destruction being inflicted in the other direction is to “regret the death and injury of innocent Israeli and Palestinian civilians” and to “encourage Israel to continue [sic] to take every effort to avoid civilian casualties.”

This posture is especially discouraging as one of the administration’s first official statements on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since President Barack Obama’s re-election. Scott Wilson writes in the Washington Post about how at the President’s press conference this week “the customarily cautious Obama spoke like a politician with nothing to lose after winning the last race of his life” and exuded “confidence and ease.”

If the lifting of the burden of re-election is going to enable the administration to formulate a more effective and more just policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the State Department’s statement showed no sign of it happening yet. A better statement would have begun something like this:

“The United States deplores the latest upsurge in violence between Israelis and Palestinians. This tragic conflict is causing unnecessary suffering among innocent people on both sides. The United States calls on both sides to pull back from what has become a seemingly endless cycle of destruction. None of the acts of violence committed by either side does anything to advance a goal that the United States shares and that should be shared by all the people of the region: a resolution of differences that will enable Israelis and Palestinians alike to live side-by-side in peace and security.”

That’s just the start. The United States should address the long-term consequences of what is taking place, and specifically the consequences of the futile Israeli reliance on escalation and destruction. It might borrow the words of Israeli peace activist Gershon Baskin, who was trying earlier this week to mediate a new cease-fire between Israel and Hamas; his principal Hamas contact was Jabari, the military leader whom Israel killed by obliterating his car with an airstrike.

“I tell myself,” says Baskin, “that with every person who is killed we are engendering the next generation of haters and terrorists.”

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post  at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)


29 comments for “A Closer Look at New Gaza Conflict

  1. Rehmat
    November 16, 2012 at 10:20 am

    I was expecting this latest Israeli attack after Saudi-Qatar money drew Hamas away from the ‘Axis of Resistance’ (Iran, Hizballah-Syria). Now, the Zionist entity feels free to carry out another genocide of the 1.5 million native Muslim and Christian Palestinians without fearing that Hamas and Islamic Jihad will receive light arms from Syria, Hizballah or Sudan.

    However, I did feel vomiting when I heard the news that the White House has condemned Hamas for defending Gaza by shooting a few rockets at Israeli Jews without killing even one of them.

    US-born British writer, Lasha Darkmoon was 101% right when she said that the United States has become an Israeli colony.


    • Otto Schiff
      November 16, 2012 at 3:23 pm

      I think both sides need to stop the violence and pursue a peace process.
      Rehmat clearly is an agitator and would not be any help.
      His garbage is expected

      • Rehmat
        November 16, 2012 at 5:23 pm

        As the saying goes: “Violence begets violence” – the European Zionist Jews, who created the Zionist entity on violence – can only understand “violence in reverse”.

        As Jewish writers like Gilad Atzmon and Roger Tuckers failed to help the Zionist homicidal maniac – only some fool will expect Rehmat to come up with a new solution acceptable to the Zionist regime.

        In 2010, rehmat did proposed an OPTION which allowed the allien Jews to keep their loot.


      • imright
        November 21, 2012 at 11:04 am

        why dont we nuke the gaza strip and let the m fight over the crater?

    • Chris
      November 16, 2012 at 6:13 pm

      Israel gave Gaza to the Palestinians in exchange for peace. Since then, non stop rockets have rained on Jerusalem out of Gaza. Israel gave peace a chance… it failed, the land for peace contract has been nullified and it is time for Israel to recover Gaza as it is being illegally occupied. Israel needs to recover ALL the land it gave away when they were being naive enough to believe it would bring peace.
      It is a shame that native palestinians and innocent civilians are being caught in the crossfire, I do feel sorry for them. This is done by design by the agitators (hamas) who have no regard for human life whatsoever. They purposely launch rockets from behind women and children to get them killed in a counter attack, so they can pretend they are victims… its an easy tactic to employ if you have zero regard for human life. Land for peace failed. Its time for Israel to reclaim their land, as they never got the peace that they were attempting to purchase.

      • TheAZCowBoy
        November 17, 2012 at 1:17 am

        YUP. You Jews ‘gave’ the Palestinians Gaza but never the freedom to live there unmolested by the Jewish parasies. The term is “jewing.” The Palys got Gaza, but not the air above it, Not the ability to ingress or egress on demand. The airport was never allowed to reopen because the IDF has a (((choke))) hold in Gaza and the West Bank. Yassar, Messer Ahmadinejad, you need that U-HAUL Paki nuke – and then, and then. Let us suggest a crater on Tel Avivs harbour 10,000′ feet deep. Yup, let’s turn Tel Aviv into a ‘deep-deep’ water harbour for the US Navy Nimitz class carriers. All you need is a 10 kiloton nuke and enough Jews all around to (((muffle))) the blast so that like Sgt York (WW I) you can keep killing the front charging Jews because they don’t know that the trailing Jews ‘are all dead!” Judenrein is the only way. Burn Juden Burn!

        • Stephon Jacobs
          November 17, 2012 at 1:30 am

          Your screed appears to have been a page right out of Hitler’s playbook. Or maybe you are an adherent of Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda minister. Or better yet, do you subscribe to Der Strumer, the preferred rag read by Hitler’s inner circle and the SS?

          Or maybe you are a white supremacist whose 1000 reign lasted 6. Regardless, your sociopathic anti-Semitism is the death knell for reason and hope.

          • Pgathom
            November 17, 2012 at 10:45 am

            What is your point? Are you disagreeing with the above if so I do not see it. This is the problem. By the way while it has been acknowledged tha hitler Inc was atrocious the west instituted, as best they could institutions to make the hitlers not exist but the Israeli government now is avaunt these institutions that they wanted. Let me give two examples
            1) when the iSraelis went into gaza in 2008 clearly there were instidents violating the Geneva convention, such as percevuting a community when you cannot find the culprits. israels response was ” change the law”. Shameful.
            2) explain how Israel acknowledged souh Africa was there was world wide condemnation because of their apartheid. Shameful again.
            3) how does Israel say they are threatened when they are clearly the largest, by far, military force in the middle east. Puzzles me.
            4) if you were looking, without bias, at who was yhe aggressor in the middle east you would have to conclude isarel.
            5) if you were Iran it sports to me that the only way to protect yourself ISPs to fevelope a nuclear bomb. (this is why n. Korea is protected. By the way Iran has NOt violated the non-proliferation act that Israel does not even sign)
            6) how can the poorest group, acknowledged by many international groups, Palistenians theater Israel?
            7) what map are you looking at thrat includes the West bank? Surely not the 1967 map of Israel. appears that Isrepael is expansionist to me.
            Explain the above honestly and then the discussion can become honest

      • nomange
        November 17, 2012 at 9:13 am

        Your narrative is false and full of misrepresentations. Israel broke two ceasefires- the first with the killing of a child, and the second with the killing of Jabari who was the very leader in Hamas who had negotiated these ceasefires (Haaretz called him Israel’s enforcer”) and who was reviewing an agreement for a permanent ceasefire when he was murdered.

        Thankfully, there are Israelis like Uri Avnery, Ilan Pappe, Avi Shlaim, Jeff Halper and Miko Peled who tell it like it is. Maybe its time to force Israel to account and mow or reseed its lawn. At the very least, the President, if he has any guts, and is consistent, should not hesitate to use a mower- the most advanced model- on Bibi and Ehud.

      • James
        November 18, 2012 at 11:26 am

        How can Israel give away what was not theirs, unless of course you’re talking about the “Story” the Jewish scribes wrote into their own bible about “their God giving it to them”. According to your way of thinking the Cro-Magnan Men could say their “God” gave them the entire world and we should all leave because it’s theirs.

        If you want to read the message from God, go to the original Greek version of the New Testament, where Jesus was never to keen on the moneychangers or their elders. I wonder why?

        The land belongs to the Palestinians, not the Khazar Jews who came from far away with no claim to Palestine whatsoever..

        And by the way Israel is NO DEMOCRACY because it has NO Constitution, NO Borders and No Equal Rights for all its Citizens.

        Why is it Israel kills a hundred Palestinians (men, women,children doesn’t matter) using banned weapons like cluster munitions and white phosphorous, for every “Jew” lost? It’s because they think they are worth 100 X the value of all other human life. Have you heard the term “Disproportionate Response”? You ought to look it up.

    • paschn
      November 20, 2012 at 10:18 am

      Wait….Look at the formidable Palestinian army! Surely a threat to the masters of D.C.!


      Nasty, nasty bunch of cowards.

  2. Lj
    November 16, 2012 at 2:14 pm

    Zionists have to get rid of Hamas in order to take on Iran, which is what they have in mind from the get go….Stop the madness, but they won’t the Zionist Regime is Luciferian and Evil…The Real Jewish People are protesting all over the World against that government of Terrorism that are hiding behind the Star Of David…If it was run by Abrahamic Jews the flag would be a Menorah…

  3. Hillary
    November 16, 2012 at 3:53 pm

    Israel surround Gaza’s borders it retains complete control of entrances and exits as well as its airspace and sea access.

    For years Israel has maintained Gaza as the world’s largest open air prison and violated the Fourth Geneva Convention (binding on all UN members and also ratified by Israel in 1951) with “collective punishment.”

    Gaza has been rightly compared to the “Warsaw Ghetto” of WWII.

    Starving people in Gaza without the essentials like water and electricity.

    Israel freely just murders volunteers who have tried to bring aid.

    Israel also just assassinates anyone in Gaza whom they choose.

    Israel is committing slow-motion genocide on the Palestinians with U.S. help.


    • James
      November 18, 2012 at 11:44 am

      Talking about murder. The most sadistic of killers came out of the “Jewish” leaders ofter the Russian Revolution up through the reign of Stalin. They butchered by some estimates 66 million innocent Russians. How about the other massacres. The list is endless, far more than their numbers would suggest. They must have really enjoyed their work.

      So you lose some in WW2, have you heard of Karma? WW2 wasn’t great for the rest of the world either, and by the way What was your peoples role in WW1 and WW2, the Balfour Agreement etc.?

  4. Rehmat
    November 16, 2012 at 5:28 pm

    I love the way Zionist professional propagandists with their brains between their legs – cry foul!!

    According to some Israeli commentators – Israel being a “normal” civilized country – only does what world’s other “normal” and civilized countries do – Going to war and killing innocent people in the process, as in Afghanistan, Iraq, Chechnya, Northern Ireland, etc. In the end, it’s all about the “might is right” and about the morals. Amir Oren, writing in Israel daily Ha’aretz spilled out the truth: “When the smoke of Goldstone’s report clears, the IDF and the government can emerge from the bunker to find that little damage has been done. Israel’s cooperation is needed in diplomatic arena. President Barack Obama will probably curb the propagandistic trend of slamming Israel for war crimes in order to extract tangible concessions from it as a peace partner.”


  5. Hillary
    November 16, 2012 at 6:42 pm

    Dr. Norman Finkelstein (son of Holocaust-survivors) compares Gaza to Nazi Warsaw ghettos.


  6. Rehmat
    November 16, 2012 at 8:40 pm

    Hamas has claimed downing of an Israeli F-16 fighter-jet and capturing its two pilots. Russian Television (RT) has confirmed Hamas claim. Israeli Channel 2 has reported that the Jewish army has indeed lost contact with the two pilots. Israeli military officials have warned Israelis to prepare for upto seven weeks of war on Gaza.


  7. rosemerry
    November 17, 2012 at 4:11 am

    It is sad to see the pathetic borat and chris, plus stephen jacobs and rehmat, arguing fiercely all the time. Pillar’s article still treats Hamas as an equal partner “two way violence”, and Obama’s words are a reminder of the day of his first election when IDF broke the truce in Gaza killing 6 Palestinians and Obama spoke NOT ONE WORD till after Cast Lea

  8. Edward Palmar
    November 17, 2012 at 4:38 am

    Israel did not “trade” Gaza for peace – they unilaterally withdrew from the prison camp they created for the people they expelled from Palestine when they stole it from them.

    Israel has been offered peace and recognition from all neighbors and the Palestinians in exchange for recognizing the 1967 borders (which far exceed those of the UN agreement creating Israel) – but the foolish Israeli government is too greedy to take this generous offer. Every time peace ‘threatens’ them, Israel launches an attack to *prevent* peace, in order to justify more land-stealing – more bulldozing of Palestinean homes and olive groves – more muder of Palestinian people.

  9. Brady
    November 17, 2012 at 10:57 am

    What is sadly ironic is that all of this vitriol contradicts the article. Did any of you read it, or are you so blindly impassioned by your own side that you do nothing but perpetuate the problem? Your responses only support the polarization of each side. This is a considerate article, trying to bring a sense of UNDERSTANDING to the issue, not blame.

    You know, the only way this horrific issue will ever be resolved is if people realize they need to take the side of peace, not blame. When is enough enough?

    You should be ashamed of the name-calling and bigoted slurs you post here.

  10. Rehmat
    November 17, 2012 at 11:05 pm

    So why European bastard Zionist Jews are fighting for the country where their ancestors never lived? Just curious!!

    On November 8, 2012, Dutch daily Telegraaf quoted former Dutch prime minister Dries Van Agt as saying that Jews should have been given a safe homeland in Germany instead of Palestine – as Palestinians had nothing to do with the Nazi Holocaust.


  11. Jack
    November 18, 2012 at 3:05 am

    It’s not a two-sided conflict when one of the parties [Palestine] has no army. It’s one-sided.

    • borat
      November 18, 2012 at 2:18 pm

      no army in the formal sense; just terror groups like Hamas which receives funding and weapons from iran and hezbollah. Also the fall of Libya provided many weapons that were smuggled into gaza and expropriated to Hamas. These terror groups act like an army- their sworn objective is to destroy Israel. That’s the only aspect of one-sided here.

  12. paschn
    November 19, 2012 at 4:55 am

    Shall we put into context those rockets shot into Occupied Palestine aka The terrorist/nuclear rogue state of Israel?


    How about we also shed some sunshine on the latest count of Israeli casualties from WW2 and see what hard science has to say about that money making fantasy;

    ( You could call this the Amazing shrinking total)

    Oops! we just lost 15 – 18% of the 6,000,000

    Even “the Chosen” take a minimum amount of fuel/time to burn to ashes….Germans being Germans, they stopped burying those killed by typhus/dysentary because it was polluting the ground water….seems their water table was too high to bury them so they had to cremate them. Like the silly cop shows say, forensics doesn’t lie…..people lie.


    It’s quite obvious that the love of money is the root of all evil. It almost sounds like that statement was custom made and directed at the “Money changers”, eh?


    Nasty, nasty little place….’ole occupied Palestine. May the true owners soon have the joy of replacing all the groves/orchards destroyed by those who take pleasure in fooling Christians/Muslims into attacking one the other while the real evil ones chuckle from the shadows. May the Christ you framed/tortured and murdered have mercy on your souls.

  13. John
    November 19, 2012 at 11:48 am

    Posted here instaed of Blades of Grass because of spam interference.
    One of the most sensitive and earnest articles on this matter is written by Robert Fisk of The Independent. He wrote a brutally honest book “The Great War for Civilisation, The Conquest of the Middle East.” His most recent article is a must read by everybody.

    Google: as the gates of hell open once more in the middle east

    As for Borat, earlier you made a comment along the lines of an eye for an eye. If Israel has that option then do Palestinians have the right to pull Sharon’s plug since he was responsible for several massacres in ’48 and deemed indirectly responsible by his Israeli peers for the murder of 1500 (many more missing) unprotected unarmed Palestinian civilians at Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon?
    And mister Borat, if you take land from an established civilization, don’t you think they will react when outsiders take it away from them. NA natives did (hadn’t the weapons and little resistance to smallpox), the Inca did (smallpox once again), the South African natives did and they eventually won perhaps because Americans and the world became sensitive to colour. Israel plays the old trick of making the opposite side appear inhuman when in fact that inhumanity is induced by inhumanity perpetrated by themselves. I don’t believe any group (Jews are not a race) of people are inherently different from another, but is modified by life’s experience, religion and other factors.
    Borat, you complain about Hamas, I don’t like their tactics either, but you state that they are there to destroy Israel but then since ’67 Israel has continued to destroy Palestinian civilization illegally and the settler actions are getting more and more fanatical. I don’t think you are capable of seeing that or if you do, accepting it.

    It appears some idiots are spamming the site. I wonder who as if I didn’t know

  14. paschn
    November 19, 2012 at 3:59 pm

    Without being too critical of your logic, think about what you’ve just said. Like a rabid dog, there is no offering of peace to those stealing Palestinian land and committing slow genocide. You miss the point. When you consider that the Global Central Banks, (“global” thanks in very large part to the “Christian” leaders in the West), are and always have been the mentors for the Ashkenazi occupied Palestine, you must accept all the tens of millions murdered by “The tribe” in their contrived wars and CONSTANT “false flag” attacks through out the world. Literally every major military action is covertly caused directly or indirectly by 7 or 8 international Central Banking dynasties that part and parcel claim Israel. Their evil machinations have brought “Christian” and Muslim people and countries into conflict for a very long time. Consider the lack of logic in all this;
    The Khazars’, (modern day Ashkenazi), adopted Talmudic Judaism in the 8th century A.D. they willingly chose the mantle of the “Synagogue of Satan” as their own and have used it to further their political/financial agenda, (Christians/Muslims et al living in slavery to serve or die at their whim).
    The Synagogue not only murdered Christians’ name sake, they speak horrendous filth regarding Him and his mother in their “Holy” book, the Talmud.
    The Quran, on the other hand makes no denegrating reference to him. Yet, the “Christian” West it seems cannot grovel enough at the feet of the money changers…..to the point that they allow them to murder their own citizens, false flag us into one war after another, crush us into slavery via Central Bank usury which is CONDEMNED in both the Quran and the Bible. Astoundingly, there are delusional Evangelical “Christian” groups that actually DEIFY the Synagogue calling them “the Chosen” Do you have so little understanding of your creator’s personality that you would, even for a MOMENT think he would consider those that framed/tortured/murdered his only begotten son as his “Chosen”? Those who created usury and force it down the throats of Christian/Muslim nations in DIRECT contradiction of his written word by corrupting “Christian” governments and turning them against their own people and the world? Of course a Christian/Muslim doesn’t want to foment hatred/violence but in order to minimize or hopefully eliminate their strangle-hold on the world YOU MUST LEARN TO RECOGNIZE whom they are and take steps to contain their evil until the day of reckoning when our creator will bring them all before him and pass judgement not only for the millions they have slaughtered but their actions against His son. Recognizing them for what they are and whom they worship, (Satan), is not fomenting hatred/violence. It’s simply recognizing their tricks and seething hatred for every living human being on this planet not a member of The Synagogue of Satan. There are ways to neutralize them without doing to them what they have, (for thousands of years), done to humanity, but when people refuse to accept what they have done/do and will continue to do in the future, you only make their victim list and enormous death-count worse.

  15. paschn
    November 19, 2012 at 10:14 pm

    This fellow, by the way, was a captain in the IDF until he let go of the groundless, pathological hatred “The Tribe”practices against humanity.


    A Benjamin Freedman in his own right.
    Let’s all hope for a bloodless secession and dissolving of AmeriKa, a surgical removal from our midst of the all enslaving Central Bank and punishment for the blow-flies in D.C. responsible for handing our sovereignty over to Israel, via AIPAC et al and the City of London.

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