Israel is now involved in conflict on almost every front. Last week there was an exchange of fire across the Israeli-Syrian border for the first time since the end of the Yom Kippur war in 1973. In the south, the Sinai border is witnessing an increasing number of terrorists able to penetrate into Israeli territory. And on the border with Gaza there is now the most serious fighting since Operation Cast Lead in 2009.
Israel is stuck between a set of changing realities in the region. In some cases – as with Syria – these are realities brought on by new situations of instability (in Syria’s case, the Assad regime’s efforts to cling on to power). In Gaza we are seeing a return of a problem which has existed ever since Israel withdrew from the area in 2005. But we are also seeing a situation somewhere between these two realities – the deeply troubling situation evidenced in the new Egypt.
The Arab uprisings in Egypt have seen a Muslim Brotherhood government elected in Cairo. Within hours of the start of hostilities between Israel and Hamas in Gaza Egypt withdrew its ambassador from Israel. The Egyptian Prime Minister’s visit to Gaza is an open gesture of solidarity, and Egypt’s leadership has issued threats of getting involved in the conflict in larger ways. This could well be the face of things to come. Where Israel was once surrounded by agressive dictators who postured animosity while doing relatively little, the new Middle East contains a set of aggressive Islamist governments who share the ideology of Hamas and are as committed as the terrorist group to fulfilling their mutual aims. How nations like Britain and the USA respond to this will help dictate the course of events.
And though Israel is – as ever – surrounded by enemies, it also retains far more significant and loyal friends. On Thursday the United States Senate sent an overwhelming message of solidarity with Israel. The Senate unanimously passed a bipartisan resolution expressing the firmest support for Israel’s “inherent right to act in self-defense to protect its citizens against acts of terrorism.” This message of support has been echoed elsewhere from some surprising quarters.
But across the Western media the reaction has been different. From the Washington Post to the Telegraph of London, the media has focussed on Israeli ‘aggression’ and Palestinian suffering as the cause of this latest round of conflict. This is wholly, utterly and disgracefully wrong. Perhaps some of the media actually thought this was true. If so, they may have come to the conclusion that Israel’s assassination of the Hamas military leader in Gaza began this conflict, because almost no newspaper or broadcaster has ever bothered to report the months and years of continuous, escalating firing of rockets against Israel.
None of the newspapers now pointing the finger at Israel as the aggressor reported the fact that in October alone, 116 rockets and 55 mortar shells were launched against Israel. None reported that since the beginning of this year more than 800 missiles and mortars have been fired at Israel. Since last Saturday alone, when Hamas terrorists fired an anti-tank missile into an army jeep Israel which injured four Israeli soldiers, more than 120 missiles have been fired at Israeli civilians from Gaza.
At the time of writing the Israeli army has called up reserves and a major confrontation with Hamas looks likely. Already, fair and foul-weather friends are calling for a ceasefire and a return to the status quo ante. They are missing the point as catastrophically as the media. The status quo ante is not the solution. The status quo ante is what got us here. It involves Israel being bombarded unceasingly while the world looks away. At the end of this conflict one thing must be clear. Israel is unique in many ways, but it should not be expected to be unique in tolerating the bombardment of its citizens. A ceasefire should only be called for once Israel has achieved its legitimate aims. Friends of Israel must simply hope that they achieve them as swiftly as possible.