Friday 25 May 2018

Israel's bloody quelling of protest will lose support for fight against Hezbollah

Israeli soldiers guard on top of a watch tower in a community along the Israel-Gaza border. Photo: AP
Israeli soldiers guard on top of a watch tower in a community along the Israel-Gaza border. Photo: AP

Declan Power

This week's carnage in Gaza seems like another imbalanced confrontation between the Israeli state and Palestinians, but these recent deaths must be examined from the perspective of rising tensions between Iran and Israel.

The driving force for the Palestinian protests at the border was about 'Nakba', or the 'Catastrophe', when in 1948, during the battle for Israeli independence from British mandate, countless Palestinians were driven from their homes into exile.

Monday was supposed to herald a series of protests dubbed by Hamas as 'The Great March of Return', in which scores of ordinary Palestinians were encouraged by Hamas to march to the border fence. Many Palestinians still have the keys of properties in Israel their families were forced to flee in 1948.

However, this was never going to be a peaceful protest. Tensions have also been running high over the re-location of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Apart from the stunning lack of grasp of how such an event could ignite the tinderbox of Israeli-Palestinian relations, the additional over-the-top reaction of the Israeli Defence Forces in firing live ammunition at the protesters has started to polarise international public opinion about Israel.

Neither US President Donald Trump's administration nor the Israeli authorities seem to realise this brutal level of confrontation is more likely to undermine US/Israeli policy and security than shore it up.

Previously, Israel's short-sighted and brutal responses were somewhat restrained by US administrations. Now it looks like both are obsessing about triumphalism at a time they should both be trying to build an international consensus about the growing Iranian/Hezbollah threat.

At a time when Israel appeared to being trying to pursue a more enlightened diplomatic approach in the region and avoiding unnecessary confrontation, it has blown its chance of a common show of support from the West, especially the EU, in confronting the growing Hezbollah threat.

Despite the Palestinians, especially Hamas, being virulently Sunni in their espousal of Islam, the current confrontation will be greatly welcomed in the Shia heartland of Iran and their Hezbollah foot soldiers, now making their presence felt in south Lebanon, close to the Israeli border.

Not that long ago, Israel cajoled the UN for troops from countries such as our own to hold the line against them being drawn into the Syrian conflict or suffering attack from Hezbollah in Lebanon. Everyone agreed this consensus approach benefited all. Israel showed no interest in involvement in the Syrian war and even supplied humanitarian medical aid to civilian casualties, bringing them across the border into Israel for treatment. Now the international community, including our own state, will have no choice but to censure Israel for its bloody approach to what it terms '… defending our borders'.

With his grandstanding about shoving his embassy into an uber-sensitive and long-contested location, Mr Trump has probably done the most damage to US prestige and policy in the Middle East since he took office. It is ironic and sad that the Sunni-led Hamas has given a gift to their erstwhile enemies within Shia Islam - and also to Vladimir Putin, its newest sponsor.

However, there are some within the international security community who believe Hamas is cynically applying the concept of 'my enemy's enemy is my friend'. While Shia and Sunni are mostly mortal enemies, the mutual hatred of Israel is the one thing they can often agree on.

While we must rightfully condemn Israel for its callous disregard for unarmed civilians, we should not lose sight of the cynical Hamas leaders who, even since the killing of 60 of their people are still urging Palestinians to come out and confront the Israeli Defence Forces.

Israel has protested its troops were under attack from armed elements in the crowd and the people they shot were mostly armed assailants. Even if this were to be completely true, it beggars belief that Israel did not prepare more strategically for this confrontation. They knew such a confrontation was coming and had they used an approach of deploying troops with less lethal weapons - designed to disable rather than kill - they could have still maintained the border's integrity.

Footage of water cannon and riot platoons with shields and batons are not pretty, as we know from Northern Ireland, but some 60-odd people would most likely still be in existence - and so would Israel's international reputation.

Declan Power is an independent security and defence analyst who has served with the UN in the Middle East.

Irish Independent

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