IDF to draft plans for Gaza ground invasion
The escalation between Israel and Hamas continues to dominate the UK media. BBC News and The Times report that rockets continue to pound Israel as the IDF steps up its airstrikes in Gaza against Hamas’ military targets. BBC News also reports that residents of Israel and Gaza are seeking shelter, some even hiding in wardrobes, as they prepare for a drawn-out conflict. The Financial Times reports that the Israeli military has been concerned about the critical mass of rockets Hamas has been building since the 2014 war. The Independent reports that US President Joe Biden said his “expectation and hope is this will be closing down sooner than later, but Israel has a right to defend itself”. The Guardian and The Times report that the IDF is drafting a plan for a possible ground invasion in Gaza. The death toll in Gaza stands at 67, with 17 children reportedly among those killed. The Russian Foreign Ministry reported that Hamas official approached it offering a ceasefire, but Israel has rejected any ceasefire for the time being. Six Israeli civilians have been killed, including a five-year-old boy.
Jonathan Marcus writes for BBC News about the strength and limitations of Hamas’ rocket arsenal. He notes that while estimating the stockpile of their missiles is impossible, “Hamas and Islamic Jihad have weapons enough with which to attack Israel for a significant period of time … the most significant weaponry in the Palestinians’ arsenal is their wide variety of ground-to-ground missile, some of these are believed to have been smuggled in through tunnels from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. But by far the bulk of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad arsenals come from a dynamic and relatively sophisticated manufacturing capability inside the Gaza Strip itself.”
Ross Atkins outlines the latest developments in ongoing escalation between Israel and Hamas in a video for BBC News. Atkins examines the reasons that led to the latest round of violence, noting that among other factors, the postponement of the Palestinian elections left Hamas frustrated and that “a conflict could serve political purposes for both” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas.
The Editorial Board of The Financial Times warns of the risk of a new Middle East war. The paper notes: “Lingering hopes of a two-state solution have been dashed. But there is no victory for Israel. Instead, its actions trickle fuel into a highly combustible environment. Explosions can happen any time. And, as the rapid escalation proves, Hamas will be quick to exploit crises as it seeks to bolster its claims of Palestinian leadership.”
BBC News reports that ongoing violence between Israel and Gaza dominates Arab headlines and breaks down various reports from across the region. The report notes that across social media there has been an outpour of anger and solidarity with Palestinians.
The Independent reports that the Met police have arrested 5 people following pro-Palestinian protest in London that drew more than 5,000 people. Demonstrators marched from Westminster to the Israeli embassy in Kensington. A smaller group of pro-Israel demonstrators also gathered in the capital. Police say the protests were largely peaceful.
BBC News, The Telegraph and The Guardian report on growing violence in mixed Arab-Jewish towns across Israel. The mayor of Lod, a mixed Jewish-Arab city nine miles southeast of Tel Aviv, described the situation as a “civil war” saying that: “This is a complete loss of control … this is a complete loss of control.” After a state of emergency was declared in the city, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin denounced “bloodthirsty Arab mobs” adding that “damaging property and even attacking sacred Jewish spaces is unforgivable”. Late last night in the city of Bat Yam a group of far-right Israelis dragged and beat a man they thought was Arab and in a separate incident smashed the windows of an Arab owned ice cream shop.
Josie Ensor writes for The Telegraph asking if President Biden can afford to stay out of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict given increased violence over the last week. She writes that Biden’s colleagues in the Democratic Party are urging the president to get involved: “In public, they have implored their president in tweets to do something. In private, they have urged him to exert more pressure on Israel’s government over settlement activity they believe are making the prospects for an agreement with the Palestinians virtually impossible.”
Arieh Kovler writes for The Spectator about “Israel’s worrying descent into violence” noting growing clashes in mixed Jewish-Arab towns. He notes that: “What began as protests about Israel’s actions on the Temple Mount have turned into dangerous riots, with protestors setting fire to synagogues, schools and restaurants in their towns. Alongside the external threat of Hamas rockets, Israel is facing ethnoreligious riots across the country.”
Yossi Mekelberg writes for The Telegraph about how the ongoing violence will test Israel’s relations with the UAE and Bahrain, two Gulf countries that last year normalised relations with Israel. He notes, “A prolonged war in Gaza, with all its devastating consequences, could put an unbearable strain on the budding relations between Israel and some of its new friends in the region, something that goes against the interests of all sides.”
BBC News reports that Egyptian prosecutors have shelved a case that fuelled the country’s #MeToo movement. Citing insufficient evidence, four suspects who are alleged to have drugged and gang-raped a woman at a well-known five-star hotel were released.
Reuters reports that former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has registered to run in the country’s upcoming June presidential election. After submitting his registration, Ahmadinejad told Iranian state TV that “People should be involved in Iran’s decision-making process … we must all prepare ourselves for fundamental reform.”
In the Israeli media, the papers are predominately focused on the Gaza escalation and the rising violence inside Israel between Jewish and Arab gangs. In Yediot Ahronot, Nadav Eyal argues that “Prime Minister Netanyahu and the government have lost control over events in the last few days, and not in regard to with the Gaza Strip”. He warns that the violence inside Israel’s mixed cities is “fracturing our social compact”. He adds: “This flare-up is a thousand times more important and existential than another round of fighting with the benighted and dangerous fundamentalists who control Gaza. Netanyahu, [Public Security Minister] Ohana and the band of sycophants surrounding them failed to grasp what was truly going on. They thought that this was a military operation amid social Israeli disquiet. But it’s the other way around: this is [social] dissolution amid a military operation. If Israel is incapable of keeping its home front in decent shape during times of war, Netanyahu would do well were he to refrain from bragging about refusing cease-fire proposals. He should declare victory, accept the cease-fire and maybe then we’ll be able to begin to rebuild some of what has been destroyed of the shared life in this country.”
Also in Yediot Ahronot, Ben-Dror Yemini takes a similar line, arguing: “A new chapter was begun yesterday in Jewish-Arab relations… one of the worst days in the State of Israel’s history. We’ve seen clashes erupt between Jews and Arabs before. We’ve seen violent demonstrations before. Mass demonstrations were held in the early stages of the second Intifada in 2000. But for nearly two decades — even while the Intifada raged, and even during Operation Cast Lead and Operation Defensive Shield — we never saw such awful clashes between Jews and Arabs. Once upon a time we had rioting. The Arabs of Lod have pivoted to pogroming [the Hebrew words for riot and pogrom derive from the same root]. And Jewish hooligans, oh the disgrace, have also taken to committing pogroms.” Yemini also criticises the Arab leaders for their involvement in inciting violent riots. He says, “The Arab leadership, including the ‘well-known moderate’ Ayman Odeh, has spent the past several weeks inciting and fomenting violent riots. ‘The youngsters of Jerusalem have gone to battle,’ he wrote. ‘They are standing up to the occupiers… everywhere there is occupation there will also be resistance’. Regarding the pogrom in Lod, Odeh wrote: ‘There are unbridled extremists who are shooting at the members of our people.’”
In The Jerusalem Post, Seth Frantzman comments that the violence in Israel’s cities is driven by the “lack of police presence and sense of entitlement to use mob justice, often driven on by social media where people share images of attacks in other cities. For instance most of the recent attacks in Israel were likely caused by seeing attacks in other places, or wanting ‘revenge’. Each side has its ‘revenge’ narrative. One claims to be defending ‘Al-Aqsa’ and one is fighting after seeing a boy killed by Hamas rockets or hearing synagogues were attacked.”
Regarding the escalation in Gaza, Yoav Limor says in Israel Hayom that after the first few days of rockets attacks on Tel Aviv and Jerusalem that caught Israel’s defences off-guard, the IDF has been able to balance out the picture somewhat. He writes: “After the labour pains at the start of the fighting, it now seems that the gears in the military-intelligence machine have begun to spin with a high degree of synchronization and are producing results. Many rocket-launching and drone-launching cells were hit, and mainly—the high technological ranks of Hamas were killed. This was an impressive intelligence achievement by the GSS, and it caused major damage to Hamas’s military industry and its project to enhance its military capabilities.” Limor warns that after this escalation, Israel will face another test: “Unprecedented public opinion about Israel from the world and the leap in positive sentiment toward the Palestinians in general, and toward Hamas specifically. At the end of the fighting, Israel will also have to address that issue: why did its national PR and information system fail to function properly, and how is it that the start-up nation finds itself in an infuriatingly inferior position versus a terrorist organization that successfully wages a global campaign for its image?”
Alex Fishman writes in Yediot Ahronot about the IDF’s next stage in the escalation: “In order to preserve the momentum and to continue fighting effectively, the top political and military echelons have to define the desired outcome precisely. Currently, the military objective is emotional: to exact such a high price from Hamas—and anyone else—so as to deter Hamas from opening fire on Jerusalem in the future. Now is the time to decide: do we continue to attack in the current method in order to continue to wear down Hamas or do we ratchet things up a notch? One option, for example, is to enlarge the bank of targets and to hit the government institutions, be that Sinwar’s office, ministry buildings and police stations in Gaza. Israel is leaning toward deciding on taking that route.”
Also in Yediot Ahronot, Giora Eiland argues that even whilst the fighting with Gaza is still underway, the time has come for the Israeli government to re-evaluate is Gaza policy. “Without our declaring so openly, our policy towards Gaza has been to choose to perpetuate the current situation. That meant a brief round of fire every few weeks, a more violent round lasting a few days every few months, and a large-scale military operation that could also include a ground operation every few years. As long as we do not decide otherwise — this is how things will continue. It is not enough to say that we need a different strategy, we must also say what the alternatives are.”
On the political front, Maariv reports that a proposal is currently being discussed by Yamina leader Bennett and Netanyahu that would have Bennett serve as prime minister first for a year and a half, after which Netanyahu would replace him for another two and a half years. “The problem is that there isn’t a majority in the Knesset to support that proposed arrangement. The recent developments have completely dashed any chances Netanyahu ever had of forming a government on the basis of an abstained vote by the United Arab List, which means that he is going to need to get Gideon Saar to support the initiative. The informed sources said that Saar has presented the following clear condition for granting his support: a term cap that would guarantee that this would be Netanyahu’s last term as prime minister. Saar has denied any involvement in those talks.”