The World From Berlin: Israeli Assault Is 'Strategically Counterproductive'

The current outbreak of fighting in Gaza is now in its third day, and Israel is threatening to escalate its war on Hamas with a ground invasion. German commentators on Friday worry that a move meant to win votes in an upcoming election could quickly veer out of control.

Israeli aircraft attacked targets throughout the Gaza Strip on Thursday night. Zoom
REUTERS

Israeli aircraft attacked targets throughout the Gaza Strip on Thursday night.

Israel's "Pillar of Defense" operation is underway in Gaza amid the biggest flare-up in Israeli-Palestinian violence in four years. Israel launched the operation in response to days of rocket fire out of the Hamas-led Gaza Strip, kicking it off on Wednesday with more than 50 airstrikes and the assassination of Ahmed Jabari, Hamas' top military commander.

On Thursday, Palestinian militants responded by launching nearly 150 more rockets into Israel, killing three people and firing into the Tel Aviv area. Late in the day, ground troops were massing near the border, and the government suggested that it was considering a ground invasion. This would mark a clear escalation of the conflict, which has reportedly already left at least 22 Palestinians and three Israelis killed and nearly 200 wounded in its first three days.

On Friday, thousands across Egypt demonstrated against Israel's attacks. Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi denounced the attacks as "blatant aggression against humanity" and said Cairo "would not leave Gaza on its own," Reuters quoted the state news agency MENA as reporting. Likewise, Egyptian Prime Minister Hesaham Kandil was in Gaza City as a sign of solidarity, where he toured a hospital and condemned Israel's actions.

Although they don't see eye to eye on the ethical issues surrounding the targeted assassination of Jabari, German editorialists on Friday are in broad agreement that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu primarily launched the offensive in order to bolster support for his Likud party in advance of the parliamentary election scheduled for January 22. They also worry that the fighting could threaten peace between Israel and Egypt and foster even more instability in the Middle East.

Left-wing daily Die Tageszeiting writes:

"It's easy to have sympathy for the fact that no one in Israel is mourning Ahmed Jabari. The murdered de facto commander of Hamas' military wing taught his enemies the meaning of fear."

"Targeted assassinations violate international law. Nonetheless, on the domestic political stage, there is much to be gained from the death of Israeli's archenemy…. But the attack on Ahmed Jabari led to an immediate escalation of the conflict and is strategically counterproductive for a government that wants to protect its people."

"Israel has also paid a high price on the diplomatic level. Egypt has already recalled its ambassador from Tel Aviv. The government in Cairo, which is trying to mediate between the two fronts, is angry…. But as terrible as the consequences of Jabari's assassination might prove to be for Israel, the pay-off for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will come in the elections in two months' time."

Center-left daily Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"Going beyond justified Israeli security interests, the 'Pillar of Defense' operation is a targeted attack on Hamas. The question is what Israel hopes it will achieve right now…. Its current heavy-handedness has primarily one purpose: There is an election campaign underway in Israel."

"The government in Jerusalem has made it clear that it will not shy away from a ground offensive if need be … but the only clear purpose of such a brutal mission would be to put a permanent end to Hamas. However, it's far too late for that. In contrast to the last war (in December 2008), Hamas now has Egypt's leadership behind it. So the attack on Gaza automatically carries a risk of regional spillover. As targeted as the launch of this military operation might have been, its continuation has already veered out of control."

The left-leaning Berliner Zeitung writes:

"War is good for a hard-liner like Benjamin Netanyahu. Even a modest military engagement can win him votes…. When it comes to taking a tough, if not brutal course of action against the Palestinians, the Israelis have more faith in Netanyahu than in any of his rivals. In this respect, it isn't surprising that he should emphasize this quality by bombing the Gaza Strip again in the run-up to the coming election and ordering the murder of a senior Hamas leader. He sees civilian victims and international law as arguments for rather than obstacles to his re-election."

"(Netanyahu) and his collation partners are equally indifferent to the fact that the military strikes weaken Hamas at a time when it is gradually becoming more moderate, thereby paving the way for even more radical groups affiliated with al-Qaida. In fact, this benefits Netanyahu because any new outbreaks of terror provide him with more reasons to oppose an independent Palestinian state."

"However, his policy is highly dangerous for Israel, the Palestinians and, indeed, the entire region, which is regrouping in the wake of the Arab Spring. It could damage relations between the Arab and Western worlds for decades to come."

Conservative daily Die Welt writes:

"In this case, there can be no doubt that Israel had the right to kill Hamas' head of military operations. After all, Hamas is the de facto government in the Gaza Strip, an entity that has repeatedly attacked Israel's civilian population over the years and in recent days. As the man primarily responsible for this war of terror, Ahmed Jabari was a legitimate military target."

"What's alarming about the current situation is not the Israeli attack but, rather, what preceded it. It shows that Hamas learned nothing from the last war…. You need to be either pretty stupid or drunk on your own propaganda to think that the Israeli government would tolerate days of rockets raining down on an area inhabited by a population of 1 million -- especially during election season."

"Whether the conflict escalates depends on Hamas. The Israelis have no interest in sending ground troops into Gaza again. Objectionable as it is, if Hamas falls, it will only bring even worse extremists to power…. The sooner Hamas accepts it must ensure peace in the south, the sooner this conflict will be over."

The financial daily Handelsblatt writes:

"The Israeli government had no choice. After the rocket attacks in the country's south, it had to send out a clear message. No government can allow a million of its citizens to live in a state of emergency for years on end."

"But the Israeli offensive is fraught with political risks. Israel could have counted on Hosni Mubarak, Egypt's former leader, not to intervene in a conflict in the neighboring country. But now Mohammad Morsi, a former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, has moved into the presidential palace in Cairo. He may come out in support of Hamas, which shares roots with the Muslim Brotherhood. He will also have to take into account all the people demonstrating against the Israeli offensive on Gaza in the mosques and on the streets."

-- Jane Paulick

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