Middle East

Nov 19, 2012

Israel’s Gaza offensive: how will Egypt, Syria and Iran react?

How will the key regional powers react to the escalating conflict between Israel and Hamas? Deakin University's Damien Kingsbury examines the options.

Professor Damien Kingsbury

Crikey international affairs commentator

The escalating battle between Israel and Hamas has raised questions as well as tensions. With the Middle East in a state of flux, why did Israel strike at Hamas' military leader? More importantly, why did Hamas respond in a way sure to invite an Israeli attack that it could not possibly fend off? While Hamas’ military commander, Ahmed al-Jabari, had long been on Israel’s hit list and had, consequently, kept out of sight, his killing may be a calculated attempt to derail the Oslo peace accords, linked with trying to stymie the Palestinian Authority’s bid for UN recognition, due on November 29. Israel’s leaders would have been all too aware that al-Jabari’s death would escalate regional tensions. But it is likely that Israel calculated the risks and decided, on balance, that Egypt would stay effectively neutral, that Iran would remain unwilling to strike and that Syria would be too bogged down by its own internal troubles to engage. Proxies for Iran and allied to Syria’s struggling regime, Hezbollah, in southern Lebanon, is also expected to remain on the sidelines, at least for now. Israel’s mobilisation of 75,000 reservists suggests that it has put together a force that could tackle Hamas, in what could be a campaign of attrition. But such a force would also retain sufficient capacity to invade southern Lebanon should Hezbollah try to take advantage of Israel’s primary military focus. Israel will have known, through its intelligence networks, that Hamas had been building up a stockpile of Iranian-supplied Fajr 5 rockets, and lesser weaponry, that have the capacity to hit Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. To that end, Israel may have wanted to confirm its intelligence and also use the opportunity to destroy or remove Hamas’ rocket capability. From Hamas’ perspective, it is less clear why it would fire off rockets that are strategically irrelevant but which are sure to invite a major Israeli military response. Hamas’ rockets have killed a few Israelis and do create nervousness. But the rockets don’t begin to come close to swinging the balance towards Hamas winning a military confrontation with Israel. While Hamas and Egypt’s new government are close through their mutual membership of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s government remains relatively weak and is unlikely to take any action not fully endorsed by its military. To that end, Egypt’s main response is likely to be to encourage Hamas to back down. Hezbollah would be itching to get involved and to score some status points by attacking Israel. But with Syria now so precariously perched on the edge of political change, it may lose its major sponsor in Syrian leader Bashar al-Asad. Also, as political tensions rise in Lebanon, the Syrian conflict could easily spill over. If that happened, Hezbollah will want to have kept itself in reserve for that conflict, rather than expend its not unlimited resources on anti-Israel point scoring. Iran is the unknown is this environment, with its own internal political tensions likely to keep it out of direct engagement in support of Hamas. However, if Iran’s pragmatic and reformist factions splinter under the pressure of an Israeli assault on Hamas, the Ahmadinejad hardliners could get the upper hand. Of the possible scenarios it is, on balance, unlikely that Israel’s attack on Hamas in Gaza will lead to a wider regional war. But Hamas may be hoping that such an outcome is their best chance of striking a real blow against Israel. This could explain its provocative but seemingly strategically irrelevant rocket campaign. For Israel, an attack on an aggressive Hamas could sufficiently muddy the diplomatic waters to derail the UN’s recognition of the Palestinian Authority. In a high stakes game, that might be enough to weather the lesser risk of wider retaliation.

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12 thoughts on “Israel’s Gaza offensive: how will Egypt, Syria and Iran react?

  1. Andybob

    Iran supplied the rockets and funds Hamas. It has either procured or acquiesced in the attacks on Israel, which only make sense as provocations. Iran feels that it is in its interests for Israel to commit itself in Gaza. Possibly because coverage of the inevitable civilian casualties will further erode support for Israel and reduce the likelihood of Israeli intervention in Iran’s enrichment program. Israel and Hamas are squabbling over the high moral ground. Iran is buying time.

  2. j.oneill

    It is reasonably clear why Hamas fired the rockets. On 8 November (before any rockets were fired) Israeli soldiers shot dead a 13 year old Palestinian while he was playing football. Palestinian militants (not Hamas) retaliated with a bomb and then a missile fired at an armoured personnel carrier, wounding some Israeli soldiers. Israel in turn responded by shelling another football field and then a mourning tent, killing four civilians and wounding dozens of others. Four Israelis were then injured in the inevitable Palestinian retaliation.

    The Egyptians intervened and negotiated a ceasefire to which both parties agreed. Ahmed Jabari, the head of Hamas’ military wing, began implementing the ceasefire. He had also been negotiating with the Israelis for a permanent ceasefire. Two days later Jabari was blown up by an Israeli missile that also killed several civilians. It escalated from there.

    But pinpointing who was responsible for the latest exchanged of rockets is missing the real point. Even though Israel withdrew from Gaza four years ago it remains the occupying power in international law, a fact acknowledged in the UK parliament. The blockade of Gaza has prevented vital medicines reaching Gazans among other necessary supplies. this is illegal in international law.

    Operation Cast Lead, the previous Israeli attack on Gaza resulted in 1300+ civilian deaths. This was also illegal in international law. The Israelis have never been held accountable, just as they have never been held accountable for the long series of breaches of international law they have committed over the past 60+ years.

    The world Health Organisation has estimated that if current Israeli policies continue Gaza will be uninhabitable by 2020. There is absolutely no doubt that Israel is guilty of crimes against humanity as well as a long list of war crimes.

    The collective punishment continually meted out against the Gazans is not only a crime against humanity, it is also a violation of Article 33 of the 4th Geneva convention.

    In this context the response by the Australian government is pathetic, in effect giving Israel carte blanche to continue its policies. There will never be peace in the Middle East unless and until we address the real problem which is the Zionist state of Israel. It is Zionism, not Judaism that is the issue.

  3. Mike R

    It may be clear to J.oneill why Hamas fired rockets on the one specific occasion described. Does he have explanations for each of the 600 rockets that preceded this exchange in 2012. In particular does he explanations for all the 40 rockets fired from Gaza on June 19, 2012 and the 65 rockets fired on June 20 June (taking dates at random – not really, but you get the gist) and what about the 100 fired on the day before the assassination of Ahmed Jabari?

    Look the cycle of violence is just another of these childish ‘he hit me first’, ‘no he hit me first’ arguments and is akin to a chicken and egg argument. The solution to a chicken and egg argument in mathematical terms depends on the boundary conditions selected ( i.e. where the time t=0 is chosen) so you can get a suitable result if the time is selected accordingly. You selected November 8 and I can select numerous of other dates to get an opposite conclusions as to who started it. This is also known as ‘cherry- picking’ which is usually the domain of Global warming deniers.

    As for boundary conditions, the southern boundary of Gaza is under Egyptian jurisdiction. The movement in both directions of goods and people are at the whim of the Muslim brotherhood government of Egypt. How come this was not mentioned in your diatribe (again the cherry picking of facts at its most blatant) ?The whitewashing of Hamas’s role in all of this is verging on the humorous ( thank god as the situation in the Mid-East is so depressing).

    Missiles and other weapons appear to arrive relatively easily into the Gaza strip (estimates of Hamas’s weaponry include approximately 10,000 missiles – this could last a long time) while for some reason food and humanitarian goods do not seem to be able traverse the southern border under the control of Egypt. Your statement regarding Israel’s blockade of medicines is patently ridiculous in light of this, unless medical supplies were hidden inside the Fajr missiles that Iran kindly supplied to Hamas . Admittedly many of the 10,000 missiles in Gaza could have been manufactured inside Gaza itself as there are cottage industries that specialize in rockets of the shorter range variety.

    Despite the WHO statements the Gazan economy grew at a rate of 28% in 2011, according to the World Bank. At this rate the Gaza GDP per capita may exceed most 1st world countries by 2020. The economic activity generated by the and import of Iranian missiles and subsequent export of these missiles into Israel, the conversion of vehicles into rocket launchers of and production of other weaponry are clearly stimulatory in economic terms for Gaza. If there have been dire conditions in Gaza it may reflect Hamas’s choice of priorities regarding weaponry versus more mundane humanitarian concerns.

    You seem to have some expertise in matters jurisprudential. In that case the summary execution of 6 Palestinian collaborators may concern you (one other was executed a week ago) . I assume that these ‘collaborators’ received due process, were given adequate legal counsel and had exhausted their all their appeals to the higher courts. The fact that their bodies were executed and dumped in the street at a large Gaza intersection does not support this theory. Is this Hamas’s attempt to rectify the disparity in the number of death of civilians? At the current stage Hamas can be credited with killing of 5 Israelis and 7 Palestinians.

    By the way Israel vacated Gaza in 2005 some 7 and half years ago.

  4. Kerry Gottlieb

    j.oneill believes it is “reasonably clear” why Hamas has fired rockets. j.oneill should read the article “Gaza Conflict: this didn’t just begin with Israeli rockets (http://www.crikey.com.au/2012/11/20/gaza-conflict-this-didnt-just-begin-with-israeli-rockets/) if he wants to correctly set out what escalated the current conflict. In any event, would this explain the more than 13,000 rockets that have hit Southern Israel in the past 13 years, over 700 rockets this year alone or the more than 120 rockets that have been launched into Israel since Sunday. Not unless one looks at the Hamas charter which clearly sets out its objective: “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it has obliterated others before it”. Talking about breaches of international Law, let’s talk about the intentional targeting of civilians by Hamas, or the use of their own civilian as human shields (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DwtRd3ZCNB). In contravention to the Fourth Geneva Convention Hamas uses civilian sites in Gaza as cover for military operations, staging rocket attacks from or near residential areas, using civilian homes homes, mosques, business premises, universities, government buildings, communications facilities and even hospitals as weapons storage, blending in with civilians, and making use of human shields. Hamas also abuses the special protection given by international law to sites such as hospitals and religious buildings, by using them for weapons storage and bases for staging attacks. Unfortunately Israel does not have a partner for peace, only a terrorist organisation that openly seeks its destruction – THAT is the real problem here.

  5. j.oneill

    @Mike R and Kerry G. You both clearly did not read what I actually said in my brief comment. I said for example, that pinpointing who was responsible for the latest exchange of rockets is missing the point.

    Of course the Palestinians have fired hundreds of rockets, albeit with minimal Israeli deaths. That is a largely futile exercise as Israel is the fourth or fifth largest military power in the world. The Palestinians do not have an army or much else either.

    The point that should be blindingly obvious is that the problems can be traced back to 1948 when the British gave effect to the Balfour Declaration and succumbed to the campaign to give the Jews a “homeland”. That campaign incidentally included terror attacks by Jewish terrorist organisations such as the Irgun, the Haganah and the Stern Gang.

    That “homeland” could only have been at the expense of the existing inhabitants, in this case the Palestinians. Ever since then Israel has pursued relentless policies of territorial expansion. It is consistently and flagrantly in breach of international law. Pointing to the other sides abuses do not alter that fact.

    Simply making a physical withdrawal from an occupied territory does not make any difference in international law if one continues to control the air, sea and land borders. This simple fact was acknowledged by the UK government in the UK Parliament.

    The true intentions of the Israeli government are ascertainable from both their actions and their declarations. Just as an example, the recent statement about bombing Gaza “back to the Middle Ages”; or putting the Gazans on a “diet” that has created severe medical problems. The collective punishment of a population for the alleged crimes of its government is a war crime and the ridiculous rationales put forward by the two of you do not alter that fact either.

    The overwhelming weight of world opinion, as evidenced by UN General Assembly resolutions, is against current and past Israeli policies. That government survives because, and only because, of the military, financial and political support given to it by the US and to a lesser extent by Australia. Julie Bishop’s column in today’s On Line Opinion is a classic illustration of that point.

    For there to ever be peace in the relationship between Israel and its neighbours there is going to have to be radical change. I am not saying that change is one way traffic. But the onus is on Israel to make the greater changes.

    Your manifest inability to see beyond the propaganda means that pressure for real change is that much less likely.

  6. Mike R

    j.oneill -”I said for example, that pinpointing who was responsible for the latest exchange of rockets is missing the point.”

    So why did you devote your opening salvos to providing an example of this?

    You then, in your latest contribution , proceed to backtrack the chicken egg argument to a time more relevant to a dinosaur and egg argument. You talk about 1948 and the British overseeing the creation of Israel to satisfy the Balfour declaration of 1917. You seem to have omitted a number of other relevant facts… Israel was created under the auspices of The UN. Do you remember the vote in the UN for partition in 1948? Australia was the first country to vote yes, a number pf countries such as the Soviet Union which subsequently became less enamored of Israel also voted yes. The Arab countries, despite the creation of a parallel Palestinian state, voted no for some reason. The Palestinian state that was created by the UN ( UN resolution 181, you can see where I am coming from regarding resolutions – the UN arguments cut both ways) at the same time was subsumed by the invading Arab armies. Gaza became part of Egypt while the remainder was swallowed by Jordan.

    To give you credit you seem to acknowledge there is right and wrong on both sides but I took it from your previous comments –“ There will never be peace in the Middle East unless and until we address the real problem which is the Zionist state of Israel. It is Zionism, not Judaism that is the issue” . . This sounds suspiciously like you’re talking eradication of the Jewish state or have I overlooked some alternate meaning?. I guess the removal of Israel would not unduly concern j.oneill as they are so many other Jewish states available in the parallel universe that j.oneill seems to inhabit.

    I am also not sure how he would plan to de-Zionise the middle East ( I will sell him some de-Zionized water if he likes) . Can he suggest how the removal of the Jewish state could be feasibly accomplished without mass population expulsions or wholesale slaughter or both? If he does have a suggestion I suggest he lets the whole world know but he may have trouble convincing the Israelis.

    j.oneill , as for arrant partisanship combined with nonsense ,you talk about Israel’s relentless expansionist policy. Were you born after the Israeli withdrawal from Sinai in 1982? Have you forgotten the withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 which has led to the current imbroglio? Can you also provide the co-ordinates (right ascension and declination) of the parallel universe you inhabit?

    Currently Israel occupies the West bank, the Golan Heights and controls 2 of the 3 borders into Gaza. They have not been able to control the southern border of Gaza as evidenced by their inability to prevent the the importation of Fajr rockets into Gaza.

    Look these argument between us are just typical of the normal set pieces that are trotted out by those on both sides on these occasions. We can go on trading comments retracing the whole mess back to 2 or 3 thousand BC if you would like (who was here first, the Philistines or the Canaanites?) . I however have limited patience with those whose partisanship provide a limited subset of the facts.

    Getting back to reality, the current situation has to be resolved by a negotiated settlement with a two state solution that provides a modicum of justice and security for both sides. I am afraid that both sides will have to have the goodwill and be capable of a bucket load of compromises to avoid further bloodshed .

    The kind of partisan rhetoric that is indulged in by several contributors to Crikey (not mentioning names) does little to create the atmosphere necessary for compromise. All it does is encourage extremists on one side and fuels the paranoia of the other side and I am also glad that the participants in situ in the Middle-East are unlikely to privy to these comments. There is enough ill will already.

    Maybe something good will come from the current Gaza ceasefire and it lead to sensible negotiations between the parties (including between Israel and Hamas) that prevents the horrific bloodshed of the past few days.

  7. Kevin Herbert


    you’ll never make any progress when arguing with bigots…don’t bother, as your arguments are air tight as they’re based on accepted facts. When bigots are faced with overwhelming evidence, they usuaally revert to ad hominem attacks, or attempt to snow the discussion with a tsunami of their flawed take on matters…mostly Wiki sourced without any checks or understanding of process.

    On another aspect of this Middle East human rights crisis, a summary of how US Jewry, particularly among the young, are deserting Israel in droves based on the facts you’ve stated above, check out the US/Israeli historian Dr Norman Finkelstein’s latest scholarly work:

    “Knowing Too Much – Why the American Jewish Romance with Israel Is Coming to an End”

  8. Mike R

    I find myself in furious agreement with Kevin’s statement above about making no progress when arguing with bigots. His statements regarding ad-hominem attacks are made without a trace of self irony!

    Has Kevin’s affair with Mr Ahminedjad soured as he is now in love with Dr Norm. I have to remind Kevin that Dr Norm has blotted his copybook by his statements vehemently opposing the BDS. I expect Kev to be manning the barricades with the supporters of Israel, and quietly sipping on a Mock-achino at the local max Brenner store.

  9. Mike R

    I have in the past agreed with Kevin’s point above that Wikipedia is a limited resource which is not recommended for academic work. It can however provide a starting point, with references that can be followed, to establish the veracity of the contents.

    As Kevin, with his disdain for Wiki, is now assuming the mantle of a scholar (after unsuccessfully masquerading as a journalist on a previous occasion). I would like to take advantage of his erudition . In light of his claims, elsewhere on Crikey, that Gaza is ‘The world’s largest open air prison’ or a ‘concentration camp’ I would like him to use his scholarly research to dissect the following WiKi entries. Can he provide evidence (even a scintilla would do) that these entries are incorrect?

    He can start with the Wiki entries describing facilities not normally found in concentration camps or prisons, such as beach resorts ( see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al-Bustan_resort), shopping malls (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaza_Mall ) , equestrian centres (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faisal_Equestrian_Club) and aquatic theme parks en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crazy_Water_Park .
    The latter is well worth a read as some parts make particularly amusing reading in light of Kevin’s claims. The theme park was destroyed by an Islamic faction (probably Islamic Jihad) due to the presence of mixed bathing. (Is this another war crime by Israel as it is defined as the occupying power by some?). There are 14 references and 4 links to follow and a photo. Go for it Kev.

    The other minor issues with calling Gaza a prison of concentration camp, despite the miseries of the past week or two, are the presence of 10,000 missiles and the ability to leave the confines of the prison. Admittedly the Egyptians only allow 1500 crossings per day ( I am not sure about the statistics for the smuggling tunnels) . Even we accept the smaller figure this corresponds to 500,000 crossings per year.

    If Gaza is a concentration camp then I cannot understand why the inmates of the concentration camps of Europe had their complaints about the absence of such facilities ignored by the management.

    In light of Kevins’ self proclaimed academic prowess I suggest he could become ( as well as modifying Wiki,which is within his rights), an editor of The Oxford dictionary. He could start with the entries reading prisons and concentration camps.

  10. Mike R

    Sorry the last sentence should read ‘regarding’ not reading’.

    I am waiting with bated breath for Kevin’s detailed analysis of these WiKi entries or something else to establish his ludicrous claims regarding Gaza. I may be waiting a long time (probably eternity) and could expire from hypoxia in the meantime.

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