Beyond the World news headlines
It was really only a matter of time.
Within days of the end of Israel’s offensive in Gaza – which included the dropping of massive ‘bunker-buster’ bombs to destroy the vast network of tunnels that run under Gaza’s border with Egypt – the tunnels are up and running again.
The tunnelers say they are not interested in smuggling weapons - the food and fuel that Gazans so desperately need are far more profitable contraband anyway.
To see the tunnels open again – so soon after the end of 22 days of military operations – has riled Israel and led to warnings that further military force could be used against the tunnels.
The warnings are of little concern to those doing the digging and the smuggling – if Israel wants to stop the smuggling, they say, open Gaza’s borders.
Stopping the smuggling was one of the stated aims of Israel’s offensive. Although Israel has been bolstered by US and European support in its bid to cut off the smuggling of rockets – the facts on, and under, the ground suggest the aim was not achieved.
Stopping militants firing rockets at Israel was another stated aim. That has been achieved by a ceasefire – but Israeli intelligence estimates Hamas and other militant factions still have plenty of rockets in stock which could be unleashed if this ceasefire crumbles like so many before it.
Dealing Hamas a ‘crushing blow’ was another stated aim. That one is hard to gauge - Hamas, despite losing some of its top leaders in the campaign, has claimed ‘victory’ and still seems to be standing in Gaza.
‘Changing the reality in the south’ was another stated aim. Again hard to gauge although much of the pre-war reality has not changed - Israelis are still living under the threat of a rain of rockets, Palestinians are still living in destitution behind a crippling blockade.
All of which, inevitably, has led to questions about what exactly has been achieved by the devastating offensive – apart from massive damage to Gaza’s infrastructure, a shocking casualty toll, a battering of Israel’s international reputation in some quarters and an impoverished and embattled population in Gaza which – on the face of it – is not blaming its Hamas leaders for the onslaught but is pointing the finger squarely at Israel.
Some commentators have said Israel achieved one important goal by reestablishing its ‘deterrence’ – its ability to make its enemies think twice before attacking – that was badly dented by an inconclusive outcome to the 2006 war against Hezbollah guerrillas in south Lebanon.
Other commentators are questioning whether the means justify that end.
‘Ah – the usual suspects,’ an Israeli colleague told me when I pointed out this commentary from left-wing columnist Gideon Levy in Haaretz which raises questions about what was achieved.
Its worth noting that even the ‘usual suspects’ were far more circumspect in their criticism in the early stages of the war – indeed some were even supportive in line with the vast majority of Israeli public opinion and the mainstream media.
Reading the comments on Levy’s essay- or on this one by Gadi Baltiansky on the website of Israel’s leading newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth – still gives a fair, if non-scientific, reflection on popular opinion in Israel which is still firmly behind the war.
More scientific is the poll published today by Israel Hayom/New Wave – which shows hawkish former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gaining steadily in popularity ahead of elections in just under three weeks.
Netanyahu – according to his adviser Ron Dermer – would have added another aim to the Gaza offensive: “Ultimately Hamas must be toppled because it is a threat to Israel,” he told Reuters here.
With the election fast turning in to a referendum on the war and its outcome – one last aim could still be achieved.
As my colleague Dan Williams reported here the fate of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit held by Palestinian militants in Gaza could be in play again – with Israel appearing more flexible on Hamas demands for the release of 1,400 inmates held in Israeli jails in return for the release of Shalit.
If that happens before election day the polls could still have some surprises in store.