Once again, it appears from my vantage point in the UK, that Israel finds itself drawn into a confrontation it would rather avoid but is left with no choice. It’s remarkable how people in the international community are calling on Israel to exercise restraint. What other nation state would tolerate a situation in which one million of its citizens are directly threatened by rocket attack, daily life has been completely disrupted and citizens have to live within eight seconds of shelter? In my view, Hamas is committing a double war crime by firing indiscriminately at Israeli civilians and operating behind its own civilians. Some argue that Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak launched this offensive in order to gain political capital prior to the forthcoming elections in January. This argument is clearly warped and untenable as Israel is responding to a grave and blatant escalation in rocket attacks from Gaza. The latest figure suggests that over 240 rockets have been fired into Israel from Saturday with hitting an area south of Tel Aviv, the first time rockets have reached the heavily populated center of Israel since the Gulf War in 2001 when Saddam Hussein fired Scud missiles at Tel Aviv.
What is most upsetting about this situation is that since Israel withdrew from every inch of Gaza in 2005, painfully removing its inhabitants there, instead of seeing Hamas invest in infrastructure and trying to develop the Gaza Strip they have invested in Jihad against Israel and turned the strip into a hub and haven of terrorism accommodating Islamic Jihad and other Al-Qaeda affiliates.
These are troubling times for Israel. The region is rapidly destabilizing and everywhere Israel looks it faces troubling new threats. To the north, there is renewed tension with Hezbollah and their stockpile of rockets has dramatically increased through the help of Iran. To the north east, rebels in Syria with links to Al-Qaeda groups have reportedly taken over former Assad strongholds on the border with the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights, bringing the conflict in Syria a lot closer. To the south east the fragile peace that has existed with Egypt for the last forty years is in danger, and the language coming from the new regime is markedly different from the one under Mubarak. In the West Bank the window to create a two state solution is waning. Not even to mention the existential threat emanating from Iranian rhetoric that has featured heavily in the Israeli political discourse during recent years.
What this underlines is that Israel, despite being a regional power, still faces existential threats from Iran and additional threats from Hamas and Hezbollah. Now is no time for complacency or for Israel to act with restraint. Israel needs to act robustly in order to curb this disgraceful bombardment of rocket fire against its civilians. In a region beset by so much instability and uncertainty it is remarkable that this tiny state continues to act as a relative model of democracy and stability in the region. This is something the West should be proud of. Israel should not be denigrated and called upon to exercise restraint in the face of relentless provocation.