x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Israel runs PR and bombing campaigns in tandem

Concerned that its international image would suffer as it pounded the Gaza Strip during hundreds of bombing sorties, Israel launched an aggressive international public relations campaign in an effort to shift blame for the carnage onto Hamas. But while Israel's PR exercise initially appeared effective, public outrage across the Middle East and elsewhere in the world has started to sway political leaders away from their initial expressions of support.

Concerned that its international image would suffer as it pounded the Gaza Strip during hundreds of bombing sorties, Israel launched an aggressive international public relations campaign in an effort to shift blame for the carnage onto Hamas. Speaking in English at a press conference on Saturday, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Israel "expects the support and understanding of the international community, as it confronts terror, and advances the interest of all those who wish the forces of peace and co-existence to determine the agenda of this region." By Monday afternoon, the toll from hundreds of air strikes on Gaza stood at over 320 Palestinians killed and more than 1,400 injured. Israel's message to political leaders around the world came down to two words: blame Hamas. The US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice picked up the theme and issued a statement which said: "We strongly condemn the repeated rocket and mortar attacks against Israel and hold Hamas responsible for breaking the ceasefire and for the renewal of violence [in Gaza]." In Australia, Acting Prime Minister Julia Gillard said Hamas was to blame for provoking the Israeli air strikes. Likewise, Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, blamed Hamas for triggering Israel's deadly raids. "We talked to them [Hamas] and we told them, 'please, we ask you, do not end the truce. Let the truce continue and not stop", so that we could have avoided what happened," Mr Abbas said. Al Jazeera said: "Egypt's foreign minister has also blamed Hamas for preventing hundreds of wounded Palestinians from entering Egypt via the Rafah crossing for treatment - the only crossing that does not border Israel. "Ahmed Aboul Gheit said the wounded were 'barred from crossing' and he blamed 'those in control of Gaza' for putting the lives of the injured at risk. "But [the Hamas spokesman Fawzi] Barhoum denied the accusations, saying that Aboul Gheit was taking advantage of the 'massacre and the suffering', to 'cover up the state of inaction in Egypt'. A Press TV report described clashes between Hamas security forces and Egyptian border guards following breaches in the Gaza-Egyptian border that resulted from Israel bombing tunnels that run under the border. In the United States, president-elect, Barack Obama, has so far declined to publicly comment on the Israeli operation, merely issuing statements that say he is "monitoring the situation" and that "there is only one president at a time." But while Israel's public relations campaign initially appeared effective, growing public outrage across the Middle East and elsewhere in the world has started to sway political leaders away from their initial expressions of support. The Sunday Times reported: "Britain has hardened its position towards Israel, calling for an 'immediate halt to all violence' in Gaza. "As the airstrikes by Israel continued into their second day, Gordon Brown telephoned his Israeli counterpart, Ehud Olmert, to urge Israel to respect its humanitarian obligations. "David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, revealed that Britain had shifted its position overnight, issuing a statement today demanding an immediate ceasefire, following similar calls from the UN Security Council and EU. "Yesterday, Mr Brown issued a statement urging the Israelis to 'show restraint' but which pointedly did not call for Tel Aviv to stop the assault." Just as happened during its war on Lebanon in 2006, Israel once again stands accused of using disproportionate force. As David Blair pointed out in The Daily Telegraph: "Almost 300 Palestinians have been killed in the last two days alone. By contrast, rockets fired from Gaza have killed 17 Israeli civilians in the last seven years. "Since Israel completed its withdrawal from Gaza in September 2005, about 150 Palestinians have been killed by its security forces in the territory for every dead Israeli civilian. Faced with this astonishing ratio, Israel's government will find it extremely hard to argue that its response has been proportionate." In the United States, the Jewish lobbying organisation J Street called on the incoming administration to swiftly intervene. "Eight years of American neglect and ineffective diplomacy have led us directly to a moment when the prospects of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict hang in the balance and with them the prospects for Israel's long-term survival as a Jewish, democratic state. "We urge the incoming Obama administration to lead an early and serious effort to achieve a comprehensive diplomatic resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian and Arab-Israeli conflicts." CNN said: "One analyst of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict cautioned against holding the incoming administration to 'dangerously high' expectations. " 'I think the tone of American politics will change: You're going to get a serious effort on behalf of the new administration,' said Aaron David Miller, a public policy scholar at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson International Center and a former adviser on Arab-Israeli relations to six secretaries of state. "But, he told CNN, 'the fact is that unless the Israelis and Palestinians are prepared - which they're not right now - to take the political decisions required to overcome the gaps and to sell an agreement to their respective constituents, there's not much a new president, no matter how bold or charismatic he may be, is going to be able to do about that.' " In Pakistan's Daily Times, Khalid Hasan wrote: "President-elect Barack Obama blew the first opportunity that had come his way to show that unlike his predecessors, he was going to adopt a more even-handed approach to the Palestine question by choosing to keep quiet after savage Israeli airstrikes across Gaza. "Obama who was expected by people in Arab and Muslim countries to turn his back on earlier American administrations that have supported Israel, right or wrong, could only have caused widespread disappointment among those who were hopeful that he would be different. If his first reaction to the Israeli outrage is any indication, it is clear that he is going to be as enthusiastic in his support of Israel as his predecessors." In Haaretz, the Israeli commentator, Gideon Levy wrote: "Perhaps we once again need to remember that we are dealing with a wretched, battered strip of land, most of whose population consists of the children of refugees who have endured inhumane tribulations. "For two and a half years, they have been caged and ostracised by the whole world. The line of thinking that states that through war we will gain new allies in the Strip; that abusing the population and killing its sons will sear this into their consciousness; and that a military operation would suffice in toppling an entrenched regime and thus replace it with another one friendlier to us is no more than lunacy. "Hizbollah was not weakened as a result of the Second Lebanon War; to the contrary. Hamas will not be weakened due to the Gaza war; to the contrary. In a short time, after the parade of corpses and wounded ends, we will arrive at a fresh ceasefire, as occurred after Lebanon, exactly like the one that could have been forged without this superfluous war." The Israeli journalist and historian, Tom Segev, wrote in Haaretz: "Hamas is not a terrorist organisation holding Gaza residents hostage: It is a religious nationalist movement, and a majority of Gaza residents believe in its path. One can certainly attack it, and with Knesset elections in the offing, this attack might even produce some kind of cease-fire. But there is another historical truth worth recalling in this context: Since the dawn of the Zionist presence in the Land of Israel, no military operation has ever advanced dialogue with the Palestinians. "Most dangerous of all is the cliche that there is no one to talk to. That has never been true. There are even ways to talk with Hamas, and Israel has something to offer the organisation. Ending the siege of Gaza and allowing freedom of movement between Gaza and the West Bank could rehabilitate life in the Strip." In The Guardian, Ali Abunimah noted: "there is a qualitative shift with the latest horror: as much as Arab anger has been directed at Israel, it has also focused intensely on Arab regimes - especially Egypt's - seen as colluding with the Israeli attack. Contempt for these regimes and their leaders is being expressed more openly than ever. Yet these are the illegitimate regimes western politicians continue to insist are their 'moderate' allies. "Diplomatic fronts, such as the US-dominated Quartet, continue to treat occupier and occupied, coloniser and colonised, first-world high-tech army and near-starving refugee population, as if they are on the same footing. Hope is fading that the incoming administration of Barack Obama is going to make any fundamental change to US policies that are hopelessly biased towards Israel."

pwoodward@thenational.ae