Israel’s Bloody but Hollow ‘Victory’

Exclusive: Israeli officials claim they have dealt Hamas a punishing blow through a month-long military campaign that killed more than 1,800 Gazans, including many children. But the “victory” may come back to haunt Israel in the revulsion sweeping Europe and elsewhere, writes Andrés Cala.

By Andrés Cala

Israel’s most recent war against Hamas in Gaza is following a short-term script similar to previous clashes, but it may contribute to a longer-term geopolitical shift especially in Europe that could shape how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict plays out in the future.

Like in the past, Israel has more than enough geopolitical support or silent complicity from Western governments, even if the rest of the world condemns Tel Aviv for its disproportionate use of force and the terrible civilian death toll, now approaching 2,000 Gazans killed, including many children.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits with wounded Israeli soldiers. (Israeli government photo)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits with wounded Israeli soldiers. (Israeli government photo)

During the four-week-long onslaught, Israel has found that it’s getting harder to justify its overwhelming assault on the narrow Gaza Strip, especially attacks on United Nations-designated buildings shielding civilian refugees. But Israel apparently is willing to ignore the global outrage as long as its vital Western allies chiefly the United States continue to insist Israel has “a right to defend itself.”

But European public opinion with discreet and isolated political consequences so far is turning decisively against Israel’s use of force against the 1.7 million Gazans who are blockaded on all sides by Israel and Egypt’s military regime. Though most European governments continue to mute their criticism of Israel, popular disgust with these periodic attacks — called “mowing the grass” in Israel — could tilt the geopolitical balance in favor of the Palestinians.

This week, Sayeeda Warsi, a baroness and Britain’s first Muslim to serve in the Cabinet, resigned as senior minister of state at the Foreign Office and quit as a minister for faith and communities to protest her government’s reaction to Israel. “With deep regret I have this morning written to the Prime Minister (and) tendered my resignation. I can no longer support Govt policy on #Gaza,” Warsi wrote on Twitter.

Recently, Prime Minister David Cameron increased his criticism of Israel, calling the targeting of civilians “wrong and illegal,” although he stepped short of imposing any real consequence on Israel. His government though did say it was reviewing arms deals with Israel worth $13.5 billion to make sure the weapons are not used in Gaza. Spain too suspended its minute arms shipments to Israel.

Despite the lack of serious action by European governments, the political consequences for Israel are starting to deepen because of the shift in public opinion. Until now, Europe’s dominant political leaders have remained in support of Israel’s narrative, asserting that it is a democratic state forced to act against “terrorists.” But the rival narrative is gaining grassroots acceptance, seeing Palestinian militants as freedom fighters waging a desperate David-and-Goliath struggle against a cruel oppressor who has for generations denied Palestinians human dignity and the right to a homeland.

The diplomatic shield offered by the West has given Israel pretty much a free hand, but the latest assault and the worldwide revulsion that is has provoked could crack that shield. While most Europeans have little sympathy for Hamas and its firing of indiscriminate missiles into Israel, the bellicose Israeli policies and the endless excuses for avoiding a peace deal with the Palestinians have changed the balance, with public pressure demanding that European governments hold both sides equally accountable.

In other words, while European public opinion still regards Hamas as a pariah, Israel is now in the running for this pariah derby, a loss of sympathy that could have serious consequences for Israeli diplomatic and economic standing over time.

Long-term Costs

Israel’s public justification for its latest offensive against Gaza is to diminish the ability of Hamas to target Israel through a network of tunnels and the launching of rockets. But the excessive violence and escalating death toll gives the appearance of Israel inflicting collective punishment on Gaza’s population.

The boldness of hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reflects Israeli public opinion that has grown frustrated with even the idea of seeking peace with the Palestinians and has settled instead for living under a security shield. Some Israelis even talk about the need to “finish the job” once and for all, as unrealistic and as inhumane as that prospect might be.

In recent days, Israeli public opinion has been more focused on the human-interest stories around the 65 Israeli soldiers who have died in the Operative Protective Edge than the far higher number of Palestinian victims, including children. There is even talk in Israel that Netanyahu’s greatest political challenge may be in explaining why the Israeli death toll is higher this time than in other punitive campaigns against Gaza.

Yet, elsewhere in the Middle East and increasingly in Europe the sentiment is different. The suffering of Palestinian civilians, especially the killing of children, has dominated the news, meaning that Israelis are growing more and more disconnected from the world’s public opinion and more and more dependent on the goodwill of the United States and European officialdom.

While it appears unlikely at least in the near term that Israeli actions will endanger American support, the alienation and even anger felt by the European public is beginning to drive a wedge between Israel and some European leaders.

Even before Netanyahu ended the latest round of peace talks and began his bombardment of Gaza, relations with Germany, for instance, were described as reaching a nadir. Though Germany as penance for the Holocaust has historically lent strong support to the Jewish state, Netanyahu’s insistence on expanding Jewish settlements on Palestinian lands has soured the relationship.

Those tensions have only worsened in recent months, forcing Israel to worry about its long-term ability to maintain economic ties to Europe, the top destination of Israeli exports. If Europe decides to wield its economic and diplomatic club, Israel could find its national welfare in jeopardy, though arguably that prospect remains remote.

Public Opinion

The official foreign policy of the European Union and its member countries is not unlike Washington’s, minus the extraordinary clout that the Israel Lobby maintains in U.S. politics. But European public opinion and the mainstream media show much more diversity toward Israeli policies than one normally sees in the United States where any criticism of Israel is politically risky.

Some European countries, such as the Czech Republic and the United Kingdom, remain staunchly in Israel’s camp while Spain and Italy demonstrate strong sympathies for the Palestinians. As anger over the Gaza devastation has mounted, some of the fury has spilled over into anti-Semitism, enabling Israel to hit back at European criticism by highlighting these ugly displays of bigotry. Israeli officials have lumped together any criticism of its disproportionate attack on Gaza with these anti-Semitic incidents.

But this anti-Semitism has been a fringe phenomenon with anti-Jewish attacks committed by small extremist groups, some from Muslim immigrant communities. These acts do not reflect broader European public opinion, which has condemned violence, in general, and the targeting of European Jews, in particular. The preponderance of criticism of Israel has focused on its harsh policies and has drawn clear distinctions between the Israeli government and Jews.

According to Pew polls of European opinion, the vast majority has a favorable opinion of Jews, while those with an unfavorable opinion have decreased consistently over the decades. Specifically, the unfavorable to favorable split in a poll released in May was 5 percent to 82 percent in Germany, 7 percent to 83 percent in the UK, and 9 percent to 89 percent in France. In Spain, it was 18 percent to 72 percent, in Italy 24 percent to 65 percent, in Poland 26 percent to 59 percent, and in Greece 47 percent each.

However, opinions about Israel are much more critical. A Pew poll in 2013 found 44 percent of the British had an unfavorable opinion of Israel, 62 percent in Germany, and 65 percent in France. In other words, opposition to Israeli government policies has been rising throughout most of Europe, while anti-Semitism has declined.
In polls taken since the most recent Israeli invasion, the British public thinks both Hamas and the current Israeli government are guilty of war crimes in almost equal shares. In Germany, another poll showed more than half of the population splits the blame between Hamas and Israel. Europeans are also critical of their governments for their pro-Israeli bias. Close to 90 percent of Germans said their government should not publicly defend Israel.

How long before the disproportionate attacks on Gaza trigger a permanent shift in European public opinion? Netanyahu owes Israelis that answer.

Andrés Cala is an award-winning Colombian journalist, columnist and analyst specializing in geopolitics and energy. He is the lead author of America’s Blind Spot: Chávez, Energy, and US Security.

7 comments for “Israel’s Bloody but Hollow ‘Victory’

  1. August 8, 2014 at 03:17

    Disarming: Gaza or Israel?

    Nasir Khan, August 7, 2014

    Palestinians have been under Israeli occupation; they have been frequent targets of destructive Israeli wars and massacres. If common sense can be our guide in this situation than the solution is to disarm Israel and prosecute its war criminals for war crimes and crimes against humanity in ICC. Disarming Hamas? Hamas has no army, no air force, no missiles, no navy, no naval gunships, no tanks, no anti-aircraft missiles. If Israel has played havoc with the homes and buildings of the Gazans and killed people then the main reason for the Gazan tragedy lies in their inability to defend themselves.

    Ideally, for Gazans to defend themselves against Israel’s military might they need a matching military power and weapons. It is obvious that without this they have no chance to defend themselves and their homes. We have seen this what Israel is capable of doing in the 29-day war on Gaza. The Gazans have been at the mercy of Israeli missiles and powerful bombs that pulverised their homes and other structures. Unless Israel lifts the blockade, ends the occupation and develops a new approach towards the people of Palestine the conflict will not disappear.

    But how can the Gazans under Hamas do that, to defend themselves militarily, remains an open question. The leaders of the ‘New World Order’ especially the United States will not allow that. There is no major country that is ready to give substantive material support to the Palestinians. Therefore the prevailing conditions will remain intact.

    We need to keep in mind that Gaza is beleaguered by Israel from all sides including its air space. It is the largest open-air prison in the world. Now Israel by intentional destruction of the infrastructure of Gaza has made sure that its people would not raise their heads again against the ongoing occupation and blockade for years to come. But if they did at some stage then they would have Israeli war-machine on their heads again. It is as simple as that if we want to understand the Israeli position.

    No doubt, this is an undefendable situation. To my mind the only explanation lies in the fact that it is military might that decides the fate of a subjugated people, not their rights according to international law or humane considerations. Yet the struggle of the Palestinians for their national liberation from the Zionist yoke needs universal support. The public demonstrations in many countries around the world denouncing the Israeli genocide and carnage in Gaza have been positive. They show a growing awareness among the people of the world about the plight of the colonised Palestinians.

  2. Hillary
    August 7, 2014 at 07:07

    Israel’s “right to defend itself “ parroted by every politician in the MSM is their right to steal Palestinian land , colonize it and brutally murder any native who resists this totally illegal Israeli occupation.
    Ever since the morally disastrous creation of Israel in 1948 this has continued..
    “We must use terror, assassination, intimidation, land confiscation, and the cutting of all social services to rid the Galilee of its Arab population.” – David Ben-Gurion, a.k.a. David Grün (1886-1973), Israeli Prime Minister (1948-53, 1955-63) revered by Israelis as “Father of the Nation”

    “Zionism´s ethos was not about peaceful co-existence but about colonialism and an exclusivist ideology to be imposed and maintained by force.”

    This religious war was predicted by by America’s Secretary of Defense James Forrestal, and many others, back in the 1940′s.

    “A Land With People, For a People with a Plan”

  3. Zachary Smith
    August 6, 2014 at 18:31

    “But the “victory” may come back to haunt Israel in the revulsion sweeping Europe and elsewhere, writes Andrés Cala”

    Sad to say, it’s more likely that this is merely a momentary publicity setback. Israel has, in the recent bombing and shelling, destroyed a great deal of the infrastructure remaining in Gaza. Life for the Palestinians will be even more hellish than before. What’s not to like about this if you’re among the land/water/natural gas grabbers?

  4. Namaimo
    August 6, 2014 at 11:27

    “I believe in aristocracy — if that is the right word and if a democrat may use it. Not an aristocracy of power based on rank and influence, but an aristocracy of the sensitive, the considerate and the plucky. Its members are to be found in all nations and classes, and all through the ages, and there is a secret understanding between them when they meet. They represent the true human tradition, the one permanent victory of our queer race over cruelty and chaos. Thousands of them perish in obscurity, a few are great names. They are sensitive for others as well as for themselves, they are considerate without being fussy, their pluck is not in swankiness but the power to endure, and they can take a joke … With this type of person knocking about, and constantly crossing one’s path if one has eyes to see or hands to feel, the experiment of earthly life cannot be dismissed as failure.”

    E.M. Forster “What I believe”, 1939

  5. Roch
    August 6, 2014 at 09:23

    This is all true and Israel’s actions are well beyond what any american or any european has done to any native american, any local native of the colonies, or even bringing people as slaves throughout the western world. As some say, who will throw the first stone? And then the petro-wealthy Saudi muslims et al who do not bring their brothers and families out of the inferno, just to save their greed and wealth and space of Mecca Medina Haj all to themselves? Enough said.

    • Cyril Disorder
      August 6, 2014 at 13:36

      You said “Israel’s actions are well beyond what any american or any european has done to any native american, any local native of the colonies, or even bringing people as slaves throughout the western world.”

      Israel’s actions are obscene, it’s an incremental genocide. Your comments about “Israels behaviour being beyond what any American or European powers have done” historically is ridiculous and flies in the face of all historical evidence to the contrary. John Stockwell, formerly of the CIA, estimates deaths attributable to the US in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia to be around 6 million. Reagan’s forays in Central America resulted in hundreds of thousands dead, the Iraq debacle…the list of America’s crimes just goes on and on. The US is a criminal terrorist state founded on the genocide of native American culture and every president, at least since the early 40’s should have been tried as a war criminal, the UK its client puppet state is as bad. Their crimes against the third world are unparallelled in history.

  6. N Dalton
    August 6, 2014 at 06:08

    Can`t see anything ` quite hollow ` here – was`nt it the end game from day one ?

    Made only possible among ` Jew – nited ` criminals in Israel and the United States.

Comments are closed.