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Another war against Gaza?

As always, the impoverished, besieged civilians of Gaza will pay the price. The only difference this time is that the boogie man is al-Qaeda

Sharif Nashashibi

Published: Updated:

In November, Filippo Grandi, the commissioner-general of the U.N. refugee agency UNRWA, warned that “once more, Gaza is quickly becoming uninhabitable.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks set to ensure that things get a whole lot worse for the besieged Palestinian territory.

Israeli authorities said on Wednesday that three members of an al-Qaeda cell in East Jerusalem had been arrested for planning attacks across the country, including against the American embassy in Tel Aviv.

The announcement came just days after Netanyahu threatened to teach Hamas, which rules Gaza, “a lesson… very soon.” How convenient, then, that the three suspects were allegedly recruited via Facebook by an al-Qaeda operative in Gaza. This could well be Netanyahu’s pretext for a new military onslaught, regardless of the implausibility of this whole affair.

Even Israel’s staunch ally the United States, one of the supposed targets of this cell, has downplayed the claim, saying it cannot confirm any of the details. “We can’t corroborate” it, said an American official. “We don’t have anything to prove it.” U.S. State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said: “I just don’t have independent verification.”

Both Hamas and Fatah, which rules the West Bank, are strongly opposed to al-Qaeda, which has never had a presence or support base in Palestinian society. It would be just as unlikely that the terrorist organization would be able to infiltrate the Palestinian territories, given how tightly the borders are controlled by Israel.

Spoiling for a fight

Of course, none of this will matter to Netanyahu, who seems to be spoiling for another fight. His threat against Hamas came shortly after it said it had deployed forces in Gaza to “preserve the truce” that was brokered in Nov. 2012, following an increase in rocket fire from other Palestinian factions since last month.

As always, the impoverished, besieged civilians of Gaza will pay the price. The only difference this time is that the boogie man is al-Qaeda

Sharif Nashashibi

Following his threat, Israel has so far carried out an air strike in Gaza, killing two Palestinians, and killed a Palestinian and wounded another in a cross-border shooting. Islamic Jihad spokesman Daoud Shihab said Israel was trying to "disavow" the ceasefire.
Palestinian factions are “not interested in escalation, but if Israel insists and continues with targeted assassinations, they have to bear the consequences,” he added. And so the stage is set for another round in violence.

Netanyahu is likely seeking to take advantage of the political situation in Egypt, which has bolstered its own blockade of Gaza with particular fervor since the ouster of Mohammad Mursi. Egypt’s new authorities are openly hostile to Hamas, a result of baseless conspiracy theories about collaboration between the former Egyptian president and the Palestinian movement.

If Israel wages war again, Cairo will not display the level of solidarity shown by Mursi towards Gazans during the last major onslaught in Nov. 2012, and will be hoping – at least in private – for a decisive defeat of Hamas and other Islamist Palestinian groups.

Unlikely

Importantly for the Israeli prime minister, it is highly unlikely that Egypt would relax border restrictions with Gaza in the event of military action, as Mursi did. This would deprive Gazans of much-needed humanitarian relief, and allow Israel to more effectively restrict media access and hence control news coverage.

Netanyahu may be hoping that international and regional eyes will remain focused on the many other crises facing the Middle East. Either way, he would not need to worry about the effect of large-scale military action on approval ratings at home.

He enjoys domestic support from an increasingly right-wing society, particularly with regard to talking and acting tough against the Palestinians, and to rebuffing governments worldwide – friend or foe – that disapprove of his policies.

“Perhaps strengthening the human security of the people of Gaza is a better avenue to ensuring regional stability than physical closures, political isolation and military action,” said Grandi. Netanyahu will treat these wise words with the same disdain that Israeli politicians have shown UNRWA since its establishment to help Palestinian refugees.

Due to the shameful blockade, Gaza has been unable to rebuild and recover from the devastation of Israel’s previous onslaughts. As such, one wonders what is left to destroy – not that that would deter Netanyahu. Military action, regardless of the lack of justification, will send a message that resonates at home.

As always, the impoverished, besieged civilians of Gaza will pay the price. The only difference this time is that the boogie man is al-Qaeda, an organization that for all its rhetoric has never attacked Israel.

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Sharif Nashashibi, a regular contributor to Al Arabiya English, The Middle East magazine and the Guardian, is an award-winning journalist and frequent interviewee on Arab affairs. He is co-founder of Arab Media Watch, an independent, non-profit watchdog set up in 2000 to strive for objective coverage of Arab issues in the British media. With an MA in International Journalism from London's City University, Nashashibi has worked and trained at Dow Jones Newswires, Reuters, the U.N. Development Programme in Palestine, the Middle East Broadcasting Centre, the Middle East Economic Survey in Cyprus, and the Middle East Times, among others. In 2008, he received the International Media Council's "Breakaway Award," given to promising new journalists, "for both facilitating and producing consistently balanced reporting on the highly emotive and polarized arena that is the Middle East." He can be found on Twitter: @sharifnash

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.