Israeli army has no answer to popular protest other than mass casualties
Killing of Palestinians after diplomatic steps may derail US’s professed peace amibitions
Israel’s prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, senior White House adviser Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump among those at the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem on May 14th, 2018. Photograph: Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty
The bloody clashes along the Gaza border on Monday provided a reality check for the Israeli leadership after the most successful two weeks of Binyamin Netanyahu’s four terms as prime minister.
The first fortnight in May witnessed no fewer than four dramatic events that left much of the Israeli public in a near-euphoric state.
Coming shortly after Israel celebrated its 70th Independence Day, the drama began on April 30th when Netanyahu, in a theatrical presentation, revealed that the Mossad spy agency had raided a warehouse in a Tehran suburb to steal the entire top-secret Iranian nuclear archive which, he claimed, showed Iran had lied for years to conceal its plans to build a nuclear bomb.
The second watershed event came on May 9th when US president Donald Trump pulled America out of the Iran nuclear deal, reimposing sanctions on the Tehran regime.
This event marked an unprecedented diplomatic success for Netanyahu, who had risked Israel’s special relationship with the US during the Obama administration in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to persuade Congress to block the nuclear deal.
The next dramatic event came the following day when units of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards fired 20 rockets at the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, prompting an unprecedented Israeli retaliation.
Operation House of Cards, the largest Israeli military operation in Syria since 1974, destroyed Iranian intelligence sites, military camps, logistical targets and arms depots.
The final event was Monday’s transfer of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Although largely symbolic at this juncture, the historic importance was not lost on Netanyahu, who said Trump had made history by recognising the historic links of the Jewish people to the holy city.
Beitar Jerusalem, one of Israel’s biggest football teams, with a solidly right-wing fan base, even requested to change its name to Beitar Trump Jerusalem.
Two days before the embassy inauguration, the celebratory atmosphere was only enhanced by Israel winning the Eurovision song contest, guaranteeing that Jerusalem will host the event next spring.
It was as if nothing could go wrong.
But then Israeli troops shot and killed 60 protesters along the length of the Gaza border in a single, horrific day as thousands of desperate Palestinians stormed the fence at numerous locations.
The negative headlines around the world were back and it was clear that the most powerful and innovative army in the Middle East has no answer to these popular protests, without inflicting mass casualties.
Despite Israel’s disengagement from Gaza in 2005, when the troops pulled out and all 21 Jewish settlements were demolished, the problem of Gaza remains and along with it the ever-present danger that the violence will escalate into another full-scale war.
With the Palestinians firmly of the belief that the US can no longer fulfil a peace-mediating role, many analysts fear that Trump’s ambition to clinch a Middle East peace “deal of the century” will be stillborn.