Crisis over kidnapped Israeli soldier brings Israel-Palestine to the brink of war

The Israeli Defence Force has amassed tanks and troops on the border with the Gaza Strip as the crisis over a kidnapped soldier deepens. For some time anyone who understands the mechanical logic of the Israeli government and its plans to reoccupy the Gaza Strip has known that the Israeli government has simply been looking for an excuse to move back in.
On Sunday, fighters from Gaza dug under a border fence, killed two soldiers and abducted Gilad Shalit, a 19-year-old tank gunner. The resistance groups, who for a change conducted a guerrilla action rather than an act of terror against the civilian population in Israel ‑ and many Israelis do understand the difference ‑ said the raid was in response to the killing of 14 Palestinian civilians during Israeli air strikes in Gaza.

The Israeli Defence Force has now amassed tanks and troops on its border with the Gaza Strip as the crisis over a kidnapped soldier deepens. For some time anyone who understands the mechanical logic of the Israeli government and its plans to reoccupy the Gaza Strip has known that the Israeli government has simply been looking for an excuse to move back in.

The excuse they had been waiting for turns out to be an attack carried out on Sunday morning by a commando group belonging to the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) and Hamas's military wing. The attack took place near the Kerem Shalom kibbutz in the Negev desert near a border crossing not far from Rafah. The assault came in the form of an anti-tank missile that hit a tank. It was revenge for the Israeli assassination of the group's founder, Jamal Abu Samhadana, earlier this month.

As we have already reported earlier, Hamas ended its 16-month-old cease-fire on June 9 after seven members of one Palestinian family were killed on a Gaza beach during a day of heavy Israeli shelling. Hamas has blamed Israel for those deaths, but the Israeli authorities – as could easily be predicted ‑ has denied any responsibility. However even Haaretz, the liberal Israeli newspaper and the TV station 10 did not believe the Israeli army.

In the attack two Palestinian fighters and three Israeli soldiers died and one soldier, 19-year-old Gilad Shalit, was captured and is now being held in Palestinian territory. This raid in the early morning was the first attack carried out inside Israel from the Gaza Strip since Israel withdrew from the occupied territory last September.

After the attack, the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) mounted a search operation in the southern Gaza Strip near the scene of the incident to look for the missing soldier. Israel's military Chief-of-Staff said he believed the missing soldier was still alive. It is just the excuse the need to justify their incursion. Even before the attack the Israeli army had closed the Rafah border crossing, Gaza's only gateway to the world, for much of the past four days citing security concerns.

Palestinian officials said the European observers who oversee the Rafah international border crossing had told them they would not be opening the border on Sunday because they could not get into Gaza from Kerem Shalom, the crossing used by the monitors to get from Israel to Gaza.

This piece of information would indicate that the Israeli army was aware of the planned attack. According to Haaretz the Shin Bet says it had warned the IDF of plans by gunmen to attack Gaza crossings (Haaretz, June 25). In other words it seems that the Israeli government cold-bloodedly decided to sacrifice some of its own soldiers in order to have an excuse to reoccupy the Gaza Strip.

The Prime Minister of Israel, Ehud Olmert has rejected demands by Palestinian groups to release jailed women and children in return for information on the abducted Israeli soldier. In fact, 95 women and 313 children and youth under the age of 18 are presently held in security prisons in Israel.

Senior Palestinian sources told Haaretz that according to intelligence information that had reached Egypt, the leaders of Hamas' military wing who are holding Shalit are considering smuggling him into the Egyptian part of Rafah through Palestinian tunnels in the area.

Instead of accepting the offer to negotiate, Olmert and Peretz, the Labour Minister of War, have blamed Hamas and the Palestinian Authority chaired by president Mahmoud Abbas, and threatened to begin a large scale attack in the Gaza Strip.

In northern Gaza, the population has begun blocking roads as the Israeli military awaits the order to attack. Olmert has said in a televised speech: "The question of releasing prisoners is not on the agenda of the Israeli government at all… The time is approaching for a comprehensive, sharp and severe Israeli operation. We will not wait forever. We will not become a target of Hamas-terrorist blackmail.”

The Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Haniya met to discuss the possible release of the soldier. Mahmoud Abbas warned Ismail Haniyeh that Israel would strike out at him if harm comes to the Israeli soldier kidnapped by militants, the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper reported today.

However, in the light of the demand to exchange Palestinians prisoners for the abducted soldier ‑ popular among the families of the prisoners held by Israel ‑ neither of these two Palestinian leaders can afford to be seen to be responsible for the release of Shalit without an exchange of prisoners.

Yesterday, thousands of families of Palestinians jailed in Israel demonstrated in Gaza demanding such an exchange. "Kidnap one soldier and free 100 prisoners," chanted parents, friends and relatives of prisoners at the rally.

These families reflect the position of the head of Hamas' political bureau, residing in Syria, Khaled Meshal, who is unwilling to release Shalit without a price. Mediators involved in efforts to secure the soldier's release reported this to Haaretz last night.
A number of teams, including negotiators from Egypt and France, are attempting to mediate between the kidnappers and the Israeli government. Egypt and Saudi Arabia are pressing Hamas and the Islamic Jihad leadership to guarantee Shalit's release. But they have so far failed.

The conflict between the Hamas leadership in exile outside the Occupied Territories under the leadership of Meshal and the Hamas leadership of Haniyeh inside the Territories, is also reflected in a conflict between a faction within Hamas' military wing, Iz al-Din al-Qassam, and the force's central body, which continues to obey the directives of the political leadership inside the Territories.

According to Hamas supporters of Haniyeh, part of Iz al-Din al-Qassam have joined forces with the Popular Resistance Committees. These forces were responsible for digging the tunnel through which Sunday’s attack was carried out.

Judging by the reactions of Haniyeh, the whole operation was carried out without his knowledge and he does not know where Shalit is held. "They discount us and discount Haniyeh," a close associate of Abbas' conceded yesterday.

This is not surprising at all, as the Hamas government is seeking to join the “Pax Americana” and because of this is losing popularity, as it seems to many Palestinians to be another sell-out similar to the ones they have been accustomed to by the previous  corrupt government of the Abu Mazen group.

For 18 months Hamas kept the ceasefire in the Territories, while the Israeli army kept pounding Gaza with tanks and from the air and the sea. The refusal on the part of the Israeli government to recognize the Hams government elected last January has turned out to be very useful in bolstering the position of Meshal and the other leaders in exile.

"You must understand that in general, the political leadership is not in the know when it comes to every operation carried out by the members of the military wing - in the same way that Yasser Arafat didn't know exactly what every one of his military organizations was doing," a Hamas source has explained. Ironically, it would seem that a similar process is taking place in Israel where the civilian government is not entirely in control of the army.

Ro'i Amitai, the tank driver who is the sole surviving member of the tank team hit in Sunday's attack at Kerem Shalom, said his unit had received an intelligence warning just a day earlier indicating that Palestinians were digging a tunnel in order to carry out an attack. This testimony confirms an earlier statement made by the Shin Bet that warned the generals ‑ a specific warning ‑ that Palestinian militants were intending to kidnap Israel Defence Force soldiers on the Israel-Gaza border through the use of a tunnel. This was also confirmed by Minister of War Amir Peretz, who said at a cabinet meeting on Sunday that he had been aware of warnings of militant infiltrations.

The Shin Bet security service told Haaretz that the Ministry of Defence had in its possession far more details than IDF officers had admitted in a press conference on Sunday. The sources said the entire defence establishment had received a specific warning, both written and verbal, that militants intended to use a tunnel to abduct soldiers on the crossings situated on the southern part of the Israel-Gaza border. They added that they could not explain why the army minimized the severity of the warning.

The Shin Bet sources also said that the gravity of the warning was the reason that a special IDF force entered the Gaza Strip on Saturday morning and arrested two Hamas militants east of Rafah.

It would seem that the generals, many of them in opposition to Olmert’s plans, wanted to derail the government’s scheme of evacuating parts of the Occupied Territories. In the last few years many right-wingers have entered the army and are now in high command positions. Olmert’s plan is not very popular with these elements. In addition to their political sympathies it would involve some serious cuts in the army budge.

Thus the so-called "centre-left" coalition has done everything it could to dig the ground under its own feet. It has strengthened the more radical wing of Hamas on the one hand and the tendency towards greater involvement of the military in Israel’s political affairs on the other.

The Israeli “withdrawal” from Gaza was hailed by many as a step towards “peace”. We have always explained that this was not the case at all. While withdrawing from Gaza, Israel was tightening its grip on the West Bank territories and continuing to build its fence. And while withdrawing from Gaza, Israel maintained a heavy military presence all around the strip, ready to go back in at any time.

From the very beginning, we the Marxists in the Labour Party in Israel have said that the worst mistake Peretz could make was to enter a coalition government with the Israeli capitalist party "Kadima" as it would serve only the interests of the most reactionary wing of the ruling class.

Today the only opposition to this government is coming from the right, who can only win thanks to the senility of the existing right-wing leadership of the Labour Party. The interests of the members of the Labour Party are to bring down this government and fight for a workers’ government with Hadash and the Balad Party on a socialist programme.

The whole situation reflects one thing. The capitalist system of Israel is in crisis. The ruling class does not have any solution and the ordinary people, including the rank and file soldiers, are paying a heavy price that is destined to get even heavier.

The only way out from this death trap that both the Palestinian and the Israeli workers and poor are facing is the transformation of this rotten system. Only a successful struggle for a socialist system throughout the whole region can avoid a general conflagration in which all workers would suffer. Only the working class can avoid this nightmare by taking power and creating a workers’ state where the two nations would each have territorial autonomy within the socialist federation of the Middle East.

June 27, 2006

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