12/29/2008 12:05 PM

The World from Berlin

'Israel's Attacks Will only Create New Martyrs'

Do Israel's air raids on Gaza amount to disproportionate aggression or did the country have no choice but to strike hard at Hamas in retaliation for persistent rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza onto Israeli towns? German media commentators are divided.

Israeli warplanes pounded Hamas targetsin the densely populated Gaza Strip for a third day on Monday, and there's no sign that the attacks will end. The raids are in retaliation for rocket and mortar attacks on Israeli towns that intensified after Hamas ended a six-month cease-fire a week ago.

Israeli tanks are being deployed on the border with Gaza, and Israel has threatened a ground invasion if the rocket firing doesn't stop.

The Middle East crisis has always been a particularly sensitive subject in Berlin, which has made pursuing a "special relationship" with the Jewish state of Israel a cornerstone of German policy since the 1950s. Because of the crimes committed by Nazi Germany against the Jews, the government and people of the Federal Republic of Germany feel a special obligation to Israel. Still, German newspaper commentators are divided down the middle in their response to the outbreak of violence. Some say the air raids betray Israel's powerlessness and will only result in more bloodshed on both sides. Others claim Israel had no alternative but to take decisive action, and that it's unfair to label it the aggressor.

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"In Israel, people at all levels of society (wrongly) believe in the omnipotence of the army. As they see it, the army can straighten out anything that politics can't, namely, establishing calm. In reality, though, Israel's massive retaliatory attacks will only bring about a lack of calm. And they might even unleash a third intifada."

"Saturday's bombardment only underlines Israel's powerlessness. Since August 2005, when the Jewish settlers withdrew from Gaza, Palestinian terrorists have launched more than 7,000 rockets and mortar shells. In response, the Israeli army has repeatedly responded with massive military attacks and completely sealed off the overpopulated area and its 1.5 million Palestinians. This is exactly the reason why Hamas fired its rockets and mortars into Israel."

"In fact, Israel's military operations are the lifeblood of Hamas ... and the Israeli army's incursions are what give Hamas its right to exist. The equation is simple: If there were peace and prosperity in the Gaza Strip, Hamas would have no power. If such were the case, the people there would no longer follow the medieval Islamists but would, instead, start planning their future. Rather than bombing Hamas, which only succeeds in sowing hatred and provoking terrorist attacks, Israel should woo the radical-Islamic groups in the same way that it did the Al-Aqsa Brigade."

"By drawing the military wing of the Fatah Party into a political process, Israel made the terror group superfluous. Yesterday's Al-Aqsa terrorists have laid down their weapons, and today they are members of the regular Palestinian security forces because Israel guaranteed them amnesty. It's a concept that could also be tried with Hamas."

The right-leaning Die Welt writes:

"Over the last few days, and just after Christmas, the images that we have seen of Israel bombarding the Gaza Strip -- crying women and enraged men -- have been disquieting. For many, these acts are abhorrent and shocking, as they believe that any death is one too many. But Israel had no choice. It had to act quickly and hard. Furthermore, its bombardments did not target the civilian population but were, instead, aimed at the pseudo-governmental institutions of an enclave that is controlled by Hamas."

"But, if Israel's strength is its salvation, its tragedy is that it continues to be placed on the same level with its enemies and, in the end, the fact that its strength leads it to be branded as the de facto aggressor. Who hasn't heard the customary appeals at the United Nations or the statesman calling for 'both sides' to put a halt to attacks? Would that somehow make everything right? The simplicity of such arguments is disturbing."

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"Instead of bringing Hamas to its knees, Israel's most recent severe attacks on the Gaza Strip … will only create new martyrs. For many years, this mechanism has functioned like clockwork."

"What is called for now in the Middle East is strong international engagement. The weapons have to be silenced -- and soon. The ability of international diplomacy to succeed must also be restored. US President-elect Barack Obama has already sent out some signals that show that he understands the region perhaps a bit better than George W. Bush, for whom the Orient has always been an enigma."

"The past has shown that not even Israel's military machine can calm Hamas down or put an end to terrorism. And there's no indication that this or future times will be any different. It's like the case of the mythical Hydra, who grew back two heads every time one was cut off. For that reason, whether it comes from the side of the Mideast Quartet or another potential intermediary, such as Egypt or the Arab League, everything must be done to re-establish the cease-fire so that the politicians can start talking."

The business daily Handelsblatt writes:

"With its regular rocket attacks, Hamas reminds us that it is completely opposed to coexistence with Israel. … It only has one goal: defeating Israel. And, in pursuing this goal, it has shown that it will not shrink from using Gaza's Palestinians as victims."

"Hamas' primary goal is obviously not the well-being of the Palestinian population. Although it has the responsibility to govern the 1.5 million inhabitants of the Gaza Strip, the Islamists have not internalized the obligations associated with the role of the statesman. Even if it costs human lives, Hamas remains committed to the ideology of resistance alone. There is no greater cynicism."

-- Josh Ward and David Crossland, 11:30 a.m. CET


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