Lives are at stake – either those of the soldiers or those of citizens


Fiamma Nirenstein

From the possibility of an agreement to that of war, complete with dead and wounded, Hamas has returned together with other terrorist militias to hold all citizens in southern Israel hostage.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has done everything in his power to avoid another Gaza war and even allowed a few days ago for Qatar to give $15 million to cash-strapped Hamas to pay the salaries of thousands of government workers. Logic suggested that this was a way of calming the waters for a reasonable period. Furthermore, he accepted as a guarantor Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, who spoke with both the Israeli government and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas in order to broker informal understandings for an agreement after Hamas’s border aggressions over the past seven months.

Yet the scorpion on the back of the frog stings him mortally, while the frog swims carrying him across the river to safety. Why? “Because I’m a scorpion,” he replies.

Despite full pockets and the promise of a port, as well as enlarging fishing zones and opening certain borders, in a few hours since Monday afternoon a hail of missiles—more than 400—struck communities in southern Israel. An apartment building was hit in Ashkelon and a supermarket destroyed there, a 19-year-old soldier was critically hurt when a mortar shell hit the bus on which he and tens of companions were traveling, and a house was razed to the ground in Netivot. Sderot residents are once again holed up in bomb shelters. The accounts go on.

Air-raid sirens went off throughout southern Israel, and in that hell of continuous danger, its residents were warned to take refuge and not to send the children to school, to keep as sheltered as possible. An intense exchange of fire ensued, and Israeli airplanes bombed Gaza, destroying several facilities run by Hamas and Islamic Jihad, as well as Hamas’s Al-Aqsa television station. We hear that three have been killed and 50 military targets have been hit. On Sunday, Netanyahu cut short his trip to Paris where he, along with 70 other world leaders, gathered to mark the centennial of the end of World War I.

Before his departure, he reiterated his intention to manage the flare-up with Hamas with caution—a position that has been criticized by members within his security cabinet. In fact, several members have slammed him for indecisive intervention, even when it’s so difficult to suggest invasion, where the Israeli soldiers can be killed or kidnapped. Only Abbas would really enjoy a new possibility of getting back to the power in Gaza; it’s he who wanted to oust Hamas by cutting funds to the Gaza Strip, and doing this caused the new wave of violence.

Sunday’s violence has its incidental origins in a still mysterious incident: Israelis woke up on Monday to the announcement that Nour el-Deen Baraka, the commander of Hamas in the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis, had been killed, along with one of their own soldiers. Shortly thereafter, we learned the following about “Col. M,” whose name has been censured due to security concerns: He was a lieutenant colonel in the elite Maglan unit, a commando special brigade. The 41-year-old Israeli Druze officer, survived by his wife and two children, was buried yesterday. Thousands showed up to pay their respects to him and console his loved ones, including Israeli President Reuven Rivlin.

His name has unfortunately and irresponsibly been exposed on social-media networks (almost inevitable these days). The young commander has been hailed as a hero. In fact, Netanyahu had these words for him: “We owe him more than can be revealed, and one day we will be able to say how much he has done to save lives.”

What we know now, is that it seems that the mission’s goal wasn’t an assassination attempt, but rather for surveillance and information, probably about existing kidnapped Israeli soldiers and citizens. The special covert force had already for some time infiltrated Hamas in order to gather information on their weapons and plans, and was apparently suddenly discovered. This is what set off a fatal exchange of fire, and later of the heavy rocket barrage by Hamas, which has called its recent attack on Israel as one of reaction, revenge and punishment.

But this punishment is just for being Israeli: an Israeli citizen is right to cry out as he or she runs to a bomb shelter with the air-raid siren blaring (as it does every five minutes in these hours) while dragging along children. “Prime Minister, decide, we can no longer live like this and risk the lives of our children daily,” they implore.

Yes, the top job of Israel is certainly the most difficult in the world. Israel has nothing to gain from a war with Gaza. Lives are at stake in any case—either those of the soldiers or those of citizens. Only Hamas plays with the death of its people as if it were its property, and looks cynically for more money, more power, more leverage on the Egyptians and more votes in the West Bank.

Journalist Fiamma Nirenstein was a member of the Italian Parliament (2008-13), where she served as vice president of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the Chamber of Deputies, served in the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, and established and chaired the Committee for the Inquiry Into Anti-Semitism. A founding member of the international Friends of Israel Initiative, she has written 13 books, including “Israel Is Us” (2009). Currently, she is a fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

Translation by Amy Rosenthal.

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