War's Brazen Face: Binyamin Netanyahu's threat to use "all power" to quell the rocket barrage unleashed against Israel by Palestinian fighters was made good when, on Friday, 18 July, infantry and armoured columns of the Israeli Defence Force rolled into Gaza. Photo by Gali Tibbon.
IT IS A FACE that brooks no contradiction. The black eyebrows angled sharply like the wings of an Eagle poised to seize its prey. The lopsided mouth, all curves and creases clutching at a single line, like a snake coiled ‘round a stick. And the expression in those dark, unblinking eyes? How often do we observe lightly, “if looks could kill”? Just study the Israeli photo-journalist, Gali Tibbon’s, most recent photograph of Binyamin Netanyahu and you will know – to a chilling certainty – that they can.
Tibbon’s photograph was taken as the Israeli Prime Minister, disregarding warnings from the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights and cease-fire appeals from Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin, announced to the world: “No international pressure will prevent us from acting with all power.” This defiance of world opinion came after more than four days of Israeli military strikes against the Palestinian enclave of Gaza. “Operation Protective Edge” is supposedly targeting the individuals and groups responsible for launching a barrage of rockets against Israel.
“Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza are firing rockets at cities in the State of Israel,” Mr Netanyahu stated in a video released by his office at the end of last week. “No country on earth”, he said, “would remain passive in the face of hundreds of rockets fired on its cities – and Israel is no exception.”
The tragedy, of course, is that when Israel vows to act with “all power” its military capacity to do so is far beyond anything its Palestinian opponents can deploy. The rockets unleashed against Israel, for example, are crude, essentially unguided, weapons of, at best, haphazard (rather than mass) destruction. Indeed, at the time of writing, not a single Israeli citizen has been killed by the Palestinians’ desperate attacks.
The Israeli Defence Force (IDF), by contrast, is one of the best-trained and best-equipped fighting forces on the planet. It’s fighter jets, armed drones, computer-guided artillery, Merkava battle tanks and navy destroyers can strike Gaza anywhere, anytime and from any direction without the slightest risk of being harried by anything more effective than small arms fire and the occasional mortar round. Small wonder, then, that since the launch of Operation Protective Edge on 8 July 2014 hundreds of Palestinians, many of them women and children, have been killed or wounded in Gaza’s densely-populated streets.
The world has witnessed such tragic and unequal struggles between Israelis and Palestinians many, many times since Israel’s birth in 1948. What’s new and more than usually troubling about this latest eruption of violence, however, is the Israeli Government’s unabashed – almost cavalier – dismissal of the international community’s concern and condemnation.
Binyamin Netanyahu has clearly drawn some lessons from the neighbouring conflicts in Syria and Iraq. He has observed that in spite of the obscene weaponry (up to and including poison gas) deployed by the Syrian antagonists against defenceless civilians, the world has displayed a singular reluctance to intervene on their behalf. Likewise in Iraq, where a full-scale religious war between the Sunni and Shi’ite branches of Islam threatens to descend into unrestrained communal violence.
The Israeli Prime Minister must also have watched, intrigued, as the Russian Federation annexed the Crimean Peninsula – the highly strategic territory belonging to its neighbour, Ukraine – without suffering more than the most superficial of diplomatic wounds. Israel could hardly be blamed for concluding that lopping-off large chunks of one’s neighbour’s territory for strategic purposes, having been done once, and without effective reproof, might well be done again. The long lines of Merkava tanks snaking their way towards Gaza’s borders raise the very real possibility that the IDF may not simply be readying itself to re-occupy the Gaza Strip – but to re-absorb it.
And who will say them nay? Not Egypt – whose leader is still settling into the throne he stole from The Muslim Brotherhood. Not Syria – torn and bloodied by its vicious civil war. Not Jordan – clinging with rising alarm to the sword-arm of its Israeli neighbour. The United States? The European Union? If they were willing to watch President Putin re-absorb Crimea into Mother Russia, then is the re-absorption of Gaza into Greater Israel likely to mobilise anything more than their tongues?
Among the high purposes of the United Nations’ Charter was the determination to “ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest”. This noble attempt to put a leash upon the dogs of war, always more honoured in the breach than in the observance, now seems poised to follow its predecessors into the same dark place that swallowed the League of Nations.
And before we conclude that abandoned principles and institutions are irrelevant to New Zealand, let us cast our eyes across the Tasman and study the face of Tony Abbott.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 15 July 2014.
AFTERWORD: In a grim example of how one hand of the God of War washes the other, the downing of a Malaysian airliner in the Eastern Ukraine on 18/7/14 has provided the global news media with a huge distraction - diverting international attention from Israel's decision to finally unleash the ground war against Hamas in Gaza.