Israel defending itself is not ‘escalation’

The Israelophobes are desperately upset by the assassination of a Hamas chief in Beirut.

Daniel Ben-Ami

Topics Politics World

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Earlier this week, Saleh al-Arouri, the deputy head of Hamas’s political bureau, was assassinated in Beirut, Lebanon by an Israeli air strike. Much of the reaction to the assassination has seemed almost otherworldly.

As you might expect, the attack has been condemned by Hamas and other Islamist groups. A senior Hamas member accused Israel of a ‘cowardly assassination’. Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah in Lebanon, denounced what he called an act of ‘flagrant Israeli aggression’.

Strikingly, some sections of the Western media have been similarly condemnatory of the Israeli strike. Israel has been widely accused of ‘escalating’ the war and needlessly inflaming tensions in the wider Middle East. Reading some of the coverage, you could be forgiven for thinking that Israel is attacking its neighbours out of pure malice.

An article by Trita Parsi in the Nation, a leftist American weekly, claims that ‘Israel wants to expand the war into Lebanon and appears to welcome open warfare against the so-called axis of resistance – Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen and the revolutionary government in Iran’. In Britain, Owen Jones, a Guardian columnist who seems to have made it his life mission to paint Israel as the devil incarnate, described Israel as ‘a state which is just drunk on hubris and triumphalism’. He also accused it of ‘opening up multiple fronts in a war’. Both Parsi and Jones are apparently unaware that Israel has already been resisting an onslaught on several fronts for several months now. Yet for these journalists, Israel is the one escalating the war by retaliating.

It is particularly rich for Hamas to complain about Israel’s retaliation. Despite Hamas’s attempts to play down or outright deny the 7 October attack on the Jewish state, which killed 1,200 people, there is no escaping the fact that this brutal pogrom was the trigger for the current conflict. The assassination of al-Arouri is part of an ongoing war that Israel neither started nor wanted.

Although Israel has not officially acknowledged responsibility for the aerial strike that killed al-Arouri, along with several other senior Hamas operatives, it almost certainly was behind it. It has a policy of targeting those it holds responsible for murdering Israeli civilians and has carried out similar operations in the past. In 2004, it assassinated Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the founder of Hamas, in Gaza.

What Israel’s critics continually fail to acknowledge is that it is surrounded by groups that have pledged to destroy it. It has faced overt genocidal threats not only from Hamas in Gaza, but also from Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen. Such threats are not empty words. Since the 7 October pogrom, Hamas has shelled Israel from inside Lebanon, no doubt in collusion with Hezbollah, and it has units operating in the West Bank. Hezbollah has also been firing across the Lebanese border into Israel for months, while the Houthis have launched missiles and drones from Yemen.

Hamas, Hezbollah and the Houthis are all part of what Iran calls its ‘axis of resistance’ in the Middle East. These are armed Islamist groups that are allied with, although not necessarily controlled by, the Iranian regime – a regime that has itself threatened genocide against Israel. This is why the media talk of Israel’s ‘escalation’ is absurd. Israel is already the target of concerted military attacks on multiple fronts.

From Israel’s perspective, the most imminent risk is that Hezbollah steps up its attacks and launches an all-out war across the Lebanese border. There probably will be some kind of Hezbollah retaliation for the al-Arouri assassination, given the attack was carried out in an area of Beirut that it controls. But Israel has apparently concluded that the risk of a much larger conflagration is limited at present. According to a study by a think-tank with close links to the Israeli security establishment: ‘Despite Nasrallah’s interest in continuing the fighting and confining the IDF to the north as long as the war in Gaza continues, he is still not interested in the situation deteriorating into a broad war with Israel at the current time.’

In any case, Israel probably felt it had little to lose from its aerial strike in Lebanon. Not least as Hezbollah has already pledged to carry out genocide against Israel. On 8 October last year, the day after the Hamas pogrom, Hashem Safieddine, the head of Hezbollah’s executive council, praised the mass killings. He went on to tell viewers of Al-Manar TV to: ‘Just imagine when these images repeat themselves one day, but on a scale dozens of times larger – from Lebanon and from all the areas bordering with occupied Palestine.’ This was a pledge to kill tens of thousands of Israeli civilians, regardless of what actions the Israeli government takes.

The skewed discussion of the al-Arouri assassination follows a pattern that has become all too familiar since 7 October. No matter what Israel’s enemies do, no matter how many times they pledge to murder Israeli civilians, Israel will always be condemned as the aggressor.

Daniel Ben-Ami is an author and journalist. He runs the website Radicalism of Fools, dedicated to rethinking anti-Semitism. Follow him on Twitter: @danielbenami

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Topics Politics World


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