For those of us in America, Britain and Europe, terrorism may be something which we take seriously, but it is not something we must face every single day. As recent weeks and days should remind us, for Israel the situation is different. Israel must fight a defensive war against terrorists 365 days of the year. Even before recent events, just consider the period from September to October this year.
According to Independent Media Review and Analysis, in October this year 116 rockets and 55 mortar shells were launched against Israel in 92 separate attacks. Compare this to the previous month and you see how swiftly things have been escalating. In September there were only (in what other situation would one write «only»?) 17 rockets, and 8 mortars fired against Israel.
As anybody who has visited Israeli towns and cities in the affected areas will know, ordinary life in such a situation is made everything short of impossible. Even when the missiles do not kill or injure people, as they often do, the bombardment forces people to live with constant terror, never sure of when they will have to throw themselves into a bomb shelter. Hamas has forced a generation of Israeli children to have to grow up like this.
What other people in the world would be able to live with the constant threat of random obliteration at any moment? The answer is none. Yet the international community and the media have no interest in this. The constant, unabating terrorizing of Israelis does not interest them. They only become interested once Israel responds to such attacks.
Since November 10, hundreds of unguided missiles have been fired at Israeli citizens from Gaza. As a response Israel has launched Operation «Pillar of Defense.». This has already taken out multiple Hamas rocket-sites and also – to the seeming horror of much of the world and world’s media – one of Hamas’s worst terrorists, Ahmed Jabri.
Only once Israel had carried out this targeted strike, the papers and broadcasters became interested. But this means a crucial and dangerous thing happens: It means that the world falls for the idea that it is not Hamas but Israel which started the violence and not Hamas but Israel which will be responsible for whatever happens from here.
This may now be a familiar model, but there is even more reason now than usual to be concerned. In 2009 when Israel launched operation «Cast Lead,» the pieces all fell along the usual lines. Neighbors in the region – as well as so-called allies in the West – condemned Israeli «aggression» and called for the usual return to the (intolerable) status quo ante. But that was it. This time the situation is different. This time an old problem is occurring in a new region. This time Israel is going to war in a new Middle East in which the pieces have by no means settled.
There has not been a major confrontation between Israel and Hamas since the Arab revolutions got underway. But what is plain enough already is that the fallout from even a comparatively minor confrontation in the new situation could get very bad very fast.
Even before these latest events, we witnessed the first fraying of the north-eastern border of Israel. The Israeli-Syrian border has been quiet since the 1973 Yom Kippur War. But in the second week of November Syrian government forces fired into the Golan Heights and Israel returned fire.
The Assad regime, desperate to retain its grip on power, may well have aimed to draw Israel into conflict. One of the few lifelines Assad would have would be if he could deflect domestic and regional attention from his own massacring of Syrian people onto claims of «aggression» by the Israelis. Of course the Syrian situation has its own propulsion, but elsewhere events look more than capable of knitting together.
Perhaps the withdrawal of Egypt’s ambassador to Israel and the Egyptian government visit to Gaza are only diplomatic posturing. But this comes after an already serious falling-off in relations between the two countries.
We have already seen the fraying and escalation of security breaches in the south at the Israeli border in the Sinai. The new government in Egypt is allowing this border area to become a place in which terrorists are prodding Israel, testing Israel and seeing what it is possible to get away with. This has already led to terror attacks in the south, only – it should be remembered – a short time into the Islamist government in Cairo’s life-long period in power.
All these – as well as the most recent – events are linked in one important way. What we are seeing in the Middle East is a breaking down of the unstable but understood ceasefire agreements that held for the best part of a generation. Over the years since the Yom Kippur War ended, Israel made some significant progress in making peace with its neighbors. The treaty with Egypt held, the standoff with Syria was silent and Israel even had success in forging broader alliances with Turkey and other countries.
Recent events suggest that this period may have come to an end. Relations with Turkey have declined sharply during the reign of Erdogan. Assad’s Syria is mired in a civil war which could yet explode outwards. And Egypt is governed by the same ideologues that drive Hamas. This is the situation in which Hamas have played their hand again.
The cards may be familiar, but the game has changed: the stakes are higher. A great shift is occurring across the region. We appear to be moving from the era of the dictators to the era of the Islamists.
Whatever is to come, Israel will need her friends abroad, for she has none nearby.