Gaza Operation Places Israel At Odds With Int’l Community
Supportive statements from the United States and Australian governments were rare exceptions.
Israel’s surprise operation, whose key targets included Hamas security complexes and some of the hundreds of tunnels along the territory’s southern border with Egypt used by the Iranian-backed group to smuggle in weapons, came a week after it ended a six-month ceasefire and stepped up rocket and mortar attacks against southern Israeli towns.
Palestinian officials say some 280 people, including a large number of Hamas gunmen or “security officials” as well as civilians, have been killed in the air strikes which began Saturday midday.
Israel deployed troops and equipment near the border and called up reserve soldiers, triggering speculation that a ground assault may be imminent.
Across the Arab and Islamic world, governments, lawmakers and non-governmental organizations have protested the strikes and are demanding emergency summits.
Demonstrations were held in Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Sudan and Yemen, and official protests came both from countries with relatively good ties with Israel, like Turkey and Tunisia, to deeply hostile ones including Iran, Syria, Libya and Sudan. More than 5,000 miles from the conflict zone, lawmakers in Jakarta, Indonesia called on all countries to “sever all forms of diplomatic and business ties with Israel.”
The governments of Iraq and Afghanistan, purported U.S. allies which are both themselves facing jihadist threats, joined the chorus of condemnation. Lebanon’s U.S.-backed Prime Minister Fouad Seniora called the Israeli air raids “criminal.”
From terrorist ranks, too, came strong reactions. In Damascus, self-exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal called for a resumption of suicide attacks inside Israel, saying that “this is the time for a third uprising.” Previous Palestinian uprisings (intifadas) took place from 1987-1993, and again from 2000-2006.
In Lebanon, Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah announced a mass rally in Beirut on Monday in support of what he called the “mujahideen” (Islamic warriors) in Gaza. He also accused “certain” Arab regimes of being “partners to the American-Zionist strategy that aims at imposing humiliating peace on the Arabs and Muslims.”
In Egypt, lawmakers from the Muslim Brotherhood – the Islamist organization that spawned Hamas in Gaza in 1987 – demanded that the government expel the Israeli ambassador and withdraw its envoy from Israel.
In the non-Muslim world, criticism was leveled by some governments in Latin America (including Venezuela, Argentina and Nicaragua), Europe (Spain, Switzerland) and Asia (Pakistan, China).
The United Nations, European Union, Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), Arab League and other international bodies weighed in. Their reactions ranged from the OIC’s declaration that Israel was committing a “war crime” to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s assertion that Israel’s actions were “excessive.”
French President Nicolas Sarkozy – speaking in the closing days of his six-month E.U. presidency – said Hamas was responsible for “irresponsible provocations” and scored Israel for a “disproportionate use of force.”
“There is no military solution” to the situation in Gaza, added E.U. foreign policy chief Javier Solana.
In contrast, the U.S. and Australian governments laid the blame for the escalation on Hamas.
“The United States strongly condemns the repeated rocket and mortar attacks against Israel and holds Hamas responsible for breaking the ceasefire and for the renewal of violence in Gaza,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in a statement.
“The ceasefire should be restored immediately,” she said, adding that the U.S. called on all concerned parties “to address the urgent humanitarian needs of the innocent people of Gaza.”
National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe told reporters that Hamas’ firing of rockets into Israel had “precipitated” the fighting.
In Australia, acting Prime Minister Julia Gillard also blamed Hamas for sparking the violence.
“Hamas had engaged in an act of aggression; Israel has responded,” Gillard said. Although she called for a ceasefire, she did not criticize Israel’s actions.
The Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which describes itself as “America’s largest Islamic civil liberties group,” addressed its appeal to President-elect Obama, while taking a swipe at the departing Bush administration.
“It must be clear by now that the only future offered to the Palestinian people by the outgoing administration was one of perpetual subjugation and humiliation at the hands of the Israeli occupiers,” CAIR said, adding that the U.S. response would only fuel anti-U.S. sentiment in the Islamic world.
It urged Obama to speak out now, showing his commitment to changing “our nation’s current one-sided Mideast policy.”
Obama, who is vacationing in Hawaii, reportedly discussed the situation late Sunday with Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton and Gen. James Jones, Obama’s pick for national security advisor.
Obama advisor David Axelrod told CBS “Face the Nation” Sunday that the next president recognized and would honor the “important bond” between Israel and the U.S.