Saad Zameel, 24, lost count of the avalanche of phone calls and messages he received over the past three days congratulating him on cheating certain death. The family, friends and colleagues of this young man, an officer in the security force affiliated to the government in Gaza, believe only a miracle saved him from a strike by Israel that targeted the military post he was manning. Five minutes before the attack in Al-Rimal region, west of Gaza, began on Friday at 11pm, Zameel left his post to buy ice cream from a nearby shop. A few metres away, he heard the sound of a loud explosion when an Israeli military jet dropped a one-ton bomb on his post and completely obliterated it.
`I feel Allah has sent me back my son from the grave,` said his mother, as she hugged Zameel. `I cannot believe it. He miraculously cheated death three times during the last war, and he did it again.` What this 56-year-old mother did not realise was that tens of other officers at other posts also survived attacks in the same manner her son had. Some 200 metres away from Zameel`s post, 150 men from the national security apparatus evacuated a military location minutes before Israel targeted their location.
This escalation by Israel, which is the fiercest since the end of the December 2008-January 2009 war on Gaza, is in reaction to Palestinians firing missiles into a residential area in Askalan, in southern Israel. Israel said the attack `crossed a red line`, and Israeli television reported that a senior military source said that Hamas would pay a high price for it. His response comes despite the fact that there is no doubt among Israeli decision-makers that Hamas was not responsible for the attack, and all signs indicate that it was carried out by one of the groups of the Salafiya Jihadiya (Fundamentalist Jihadists), of which Al-Qaeda is one of the most prominent.
Hamas fought a vicious battle against Salafiya Jihadiya in August 2009, which left 33 dead including the leader of the group, Abdel-Latif Moussa, and his deputy, Abu Abdullah Al-Suri. There is no question that these groups aim to embarrass Hamas through these operations, but Israel is intent on using its deterrence power demonstrated during the last war to pressure Hamas to curtail these groups.
Matan Vilnai, Israel`s deputy minister of defence said that Hamas is the only party they should pressure since they control the Gaza Strip. Meanwhile, Silvan Shalom, Israel`s deputy prime minister, warned against the continued bombing of the Gaza Strip because of the threat that poses to Israel. At the same time, he told Hamas `it will soon, and very quickly, regret` any decision to re-launch attacks on Israeli settlements.
`Israel`s government will not allow missiles to target Jewish settlements in southern in Israel,` he said. Shalom described Israel`s current attacks as `a sprinkle, but they could turn into heavy rain.` He added that his government `is not interested in bombing the Gaza Strip, but if Hamas started launching missiles, Israel will react in a firm manner.`
Hamas doubts that Israel will escalate strikes into an all-out confrontation, similar to the last war. Salah Al-Bardawil, a leading figure in Hamas, believes the escalation is an attempt by Israel to mix military and political issues in the region, to cover-up the repercussions of the Freedom Flotilla events that `caused Israel`s standing among world countries to drop`.
Ismail Haniyeh, prime minister in Gaza, indirectly laid part of the blame for Israel`s military escalation at the doorstep of Arab regimes. `The Arab decision to allow the Palestinian Authority to return to direct negotiations gives Israel the appropriate umbrella to attack Gaza,` Al-Bardawil stated. `[Talks] are in complete compliance with the wishes of the occupiers and the Quartet, and is a cover for continued crimes by the occupation against the Palestinian people. The blood shed by Palestinian martyrs beckons us not to agree to conciliation and negotiations with the occupation forces.`
Regardless of Israel`s intentions, no doubt these events give rise to the following question: Can the Gaza Strip continue to be the main battleground of the military confrontation with Israel? One of the main flaws of Palestinian resistance groups is the fact that they did not modernise their military doctrines, despite many developments that require this advance. The Palestinian resistance has not reassessed the use of missile attacks from Gaza after Israel`s `disengagement plan` by which it dismantled settlements in the Gaza Strip.
Plus, the situation in Gaza became more volatile once Hamas came to power and embarked on a struggle with Fatah, which eventually resulted in its total control of the Gaza Strip. Israel was able to convince many countries around the world that it has the right to respond to missile attacks from Gaza with the same force used to respond to states, since Gaza had become a `hostile entity` once Hamas took over power. At the same time, Hamas and other factions made the Gaza Strip the main battleground for confronting the occupation. But for many this move overestimated the capabilities of Gaza, as proven in the last war when the small area with a high population density was subject by Israel to maximum military force.
Before the last war by Israel, Gaza had become the default battleground because resistance activities were largely curtailed in the West Bank as a result of cooperation between the Palestinian Authority`s security forces and the occupying army in pursuing resistance elements. Also, resistance activities from abroad had come to a complete halt. This reality also negatively affected the performance of the resistance. The geostrategic and demographic reality in the Gaza Strip does not allow for much manoeuvring. There are 1.5 million people crammed in an area no bigger than 360 square kilometres, which enables Israel to focus all its military capabilities to cut down the resistance. The high population density in Gaza also enhances the negative effects of aggressions against the Palestinian people once the occupation army uses unreasonable force.
For some, the resistance made the same mistake that Palestinian movements have made since the Palestinian revolution in 1936, which is basically not factoring in the response of the occupation and domestic, regional and international conditions. They also ignored the requirements of the Palestinian people to continue their resistance, being a major pillar of resistance. For example, conversations are no longer about liberation but about rebuilding what the occupation has destroyed during the last war.
No doubt, Hamas is relying on a false belief that it can marry governing and resistance. It believed that the `disengagement plan` and redeployment of Israeli troops to the periphery of the Gaza Strip in September 2005 represented a collapse of the Oslo Accords. Accordingly, its participation in the 2006 elections would not be regulated by the terms of an agreement the group had vehemently opposed. Soon, however, it became apparent that the Gaza Strip was not only bound by the terms of Oslo, but also that Israel is capable of creating new, more severe restrictions. The disengagement plan did not stop Tel Aviv from controlling everything in Gaza, whether by land, air or sea. A case in point is the four-year-old siege.
Hamas thought that participating in elections would protect its right to resistance, but it was proven wrong. The fact is the role of a governing party is to provide a good life for its citizens by providing a variety of services. If it cannot provide this, it mainly relies on Israel`s `good intentions` to play this role. Hamas`s rule gave Israel an opportunity to blackmail the group, since it responds to resistance activities by blocking the services that the government in Gaza can provide. This forced Hamas to stop resistance acts. Meanwhile, the occupation manipulated privileges in the Paris Agreement on economic issues to punish the Palestinian people, and make them abandon resistance and curtail their political hopes and aspirations. It is also working on driving a wedge between the resistance and the people in the hope that the two sides eventually collide.