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Permission to Narrate: Did Israel Provoke Gaza Escalation to Test “Iron Dome”?

When the Israeli military extra-judicially assassinated the Popular Resistance Committee leader Zuhair Qaisi they provoked a barrage of rockets. I knew this would happen. They also knew very well that this would happen. Anyone looking at the numbers and the dynamics of violence in and out of Gaza would know this would happen. The Israelis claim that Qaisi was planning an attack through Sinai. Of course, they provide no evidence of this. We are just supposed to take them at their word. Reports also indicate that the Israelis were monitoring Qaisi’s every move for some time.

Qaisi’s predecessor was killed by an Israeli assassination last August in an Israeli strike which left 6 dead, including a 3 year old child. The Israelis claimed an attack that came from Sinai on Eilat had originated in Gaza. This seemed suspicious at the time. The Eilat attack was well coordinated and beyond what anyone estimated to be the operational capabilities of a small faction like the PRC. Sure enough, we later learned the IDF acknowledged that Egyptian Beduin perpetrated the attack.

It was easier and less politically costly for the Israelis to retaliate against Gaza since nobody seems to ask questions when Israelis kill Palestinians in Gaza – its become routine. Had they struck at Egypt however, they would have to calculate the unknown variable of a revolutionary Egypt’s reaction. Gaza was the more convenientplace to go for revenge. Israeli journalist Amira Hass noted at the time how no signs in Gaza pointed to local responsibility for the attacks.

 Let us grant for the sake of argument that Qaisi was planning an attack, the timing of the Israeli assassination was still elected and not forced since, as the Israelis admit, Qaisi was not an imminent threat.

This begs the question; Why would the Israeli government take an action which they know would immediately provoke a response putting more Israelis at risk than if they would not have. The Israelis claim to have had detailed intelligence to justify the assassination of Qaisi so wouldn’t it make more sense to use that information to defend Israeli interests without provoking a response that would bring a barrage of projectile file? Of course it would, but that is not the course of action the Israelis chose.

It seems as though they wanted to provoke a response. But why? Why would the Israeli government put Israelis at risk when this was entirely avoidably? (Of course, they ultimately put Palestinians at risk the most but the Israeli government has never been all too concerned about that anyway)

It may be because something happened on the way to AIPAC. While Netanyahu and his Israel Lobby friends have done a very good job of convincing members of Congress to support an Israeli strike on Iran, there is one audience that is significantly less convinced and less gung-ho; Israelis.

From a poll that was released immediately before the AIPAC conference (obviously intentional timing) we learned that the Israeli public and their Prime Minister are not on the same page. Shibley Telhami writes about the poll conducted with the Israeli Dahaf Institute at the end of February 2012:

Only 19 percent of Israelis polled expressed support for an attack without U.S. backing, according to a poll I conducted — fielded by Israel’s Dahaf Institute Feb. 22-26 — while 42 percent endorsed a strike only if there is at least U.S. support, and 32 percent opposed an attack regardless.

This does not appear to be because of Israeli worries about potential American punishment. In fact, Israelis remain confident the U.S. would support them, at least diplomatically (38 percent), or join the war on Israel’s behalf (27 percent) — even if Israel struck Iran without Washington’s approval. Only 15 percent expect reduced American support. What seems behind these attitudes is an assessment of the consequences of an Israeli attack.

A majority of Israelis polled, roughly 51 percent, said the war would last months (29 percent) or years (22 percent), while only 18 percent said it would last days. About as many Israelis, 44 percent, think that an Israeli strike would actually strengthen Iran’s government as think it would weaken it (45 percent).

Two-thirds of Israelis, meanwhile, believe Hezbollah would most likely join Iran in retaliation against Israel — even if Israel did not strike Hezbollah forces. An additional 27 percent believe Hezbollah would join only if attacked.

So here is Netanyahu, putting all his effort and focus toward saber rattling, and his public isn’t going along. Netanyahu would not likely carry out an attack that his public is against and Iran and the US know that electoral constraints would mean even the most belligerent rhetoric isn’t likely to be backed up with action if it will cost a leader his office. The greatest obstacle to Israeli public support for a unilateral Israeli strike on Iran is the belief that the consequences of the attack from Iran, Hezbollah and other factions like Islamic Jihad, would be too high a cost to bear.

What could the Israeli government do to change this perception? Well, a successful large scale live action test of the US funded Iron Dome would probably help, and assassinating a PRC militant would provoke the projectiles to trigger one.

As the ‘Iron Dome’ (which can also refer to Israel’s hard-headed policy toward Gaza) was put into use, Israeliright wing publications openly favoring belligerency toward Iran happily reported on the success of the system. Israeli publications that have been less hawkish on Iran took a different approach.

Haaretz’s Aluf Benn picks up on on how Netanyahu is “preparing Israeli public opinion for war on Iran” yet somehow fails to even mention Gaza in his piece, let alone ask the obvious question about whether shaping Israeli public opinion toward war could explain the inexplicable Israeli decision making behind provoking projectile fire from Gaza.

27 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza and 80 more injured from Israeli fire after the assassination of Qaisi.

Are these mere sacrificial guinea pigs for Netanyahu’s experiment?

Mourners in Gaza are not waiting for Haaretz to ask that question.