Waging War to Win Elections: Timing Is Everything

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Waging War to Win Elections: Timing Is Everything

Just after the U.S. election and just before the Israeli election, Israel has decided to escalate attacks on Gaza.

Relentless air strikes have killed 46 Palestinians, 15 of them civilians and injured more than 400 civilians, in retaliation for three civilian deaths so far in Israel. “Surgical” Israeli airstrikes have killed the head of the Hamas military organization and flattened the parliament building, and Israel is calling up its reserves and positioning its forces along the border with Gaza.

The timing is creating international comment and outrage as Prime Minister Netanyahu seems to be following a pattern established by Israeli politicians in the past. In June 1981, Prime Minister Begin ordered the strike on Saddam Hussain’s Osirak nuclear reactor and a few weeks later, as a popular hero he won a close election. In 1996 Shimon Peres ordered a massive air strikeagainst Hezbollah in Lebanon a few months before an election, which he lost by a slimmer margin than expected. Four years ago, the government of Ehud Olmert ordered an attack against Hamas, as part of his electoral strategy. After a devastating military offensive on the Gaza strip in 2008 and 2009, Olmert also failed to win reelection and the more extreme Netanyahu has dominated Israeli politics ever since.

The ballot box in Israel seems to be run by the security agenda and will probably assure Prime Minister Netanyahu a few more seats in the Knesset. The propaganda machine is working hard in Israel today as opposition to the government is seen as unpatriotic. Defense Minister Barak is also set to benefit from increased popular vote, similar to when he surged in the polls before the 2009 parliamentary election.

There is nothing like an enemy to bring a country together in support of the military and the political party most identified with it. Commentators must be forgiven if they suspect the escalation was deliberate as it has happened before leading up to elections. Aggressive campaign speeches are the norm now in Israel and the war against Gaza has a terrible logic about it as attrition being carried out for the Israeli electorate.

Other forces are at play of course, as nothing about the Israeli-Arab conflict has ever been simple. Hamas has been preparing for attacks against Israel for four years since the offensive against Gaza ended in January 2009. Hamas is feeling encouraged by the Arab Spring movement, its links with the Muslim Brotherhood and new recognition from Islamists across the Middle East. They expect backing from Egypt, which has already had issues in the Sinai but Prime Minister Morsi is counseling caution at this stage, while hosting talks for concerned leaders.

Hamas also needs to assert itself as Fatah on the West Bank is pursuing a diplomatic course to achieve recognition through the United Nations. It has been suggested that the recent conflagration is an attempt to keep control of Gaza and foil Fatah’s chances for Palestinian nationhood. In the meantime, Israel is calling up reservists and assembling troops on the border.

With civil war in Syria and unrest in Libya, a mood of uncertainty is palpable. As answers are sought for Israel’s latest devastating military offensive against Gaza, it is refreshing to hear Turkey’s Prime Minister speak out.

Prime Minster Erdogan has decried Israel’s attack on Gaza as a pre-election stunt, thereby further distancing Turkey from its former ally. Recognizing what many have suspected, Erdogan has called out Israel on its lethal policies.

As events unfold over the next few tense days, the world is watching Israel’s next moves and hope they will call off an invasion. The Israeli electorate may be fooled or frightened into voting for Netanyahu’s policies again, but surely this time they may see through the politics and opt for humanity instead.

Dr. Azeem Ibrahim is the Executive Chairman of The Scotland Institute and a Fellow and Member of the Board of Directors at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.

This article was published by the Huffington Post on November 19, 2012. Click here to read.

ISPU scholars are provided a space on our site to display a selection of op-eds. These were not necessarily commissioned by ISPU, nor is their presence on the site equal to an endorsement of the content. The opinions expressed are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ISPU.

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