Israel’s military operation started on Wednesday with a strike killing Hamas military leader Ahmed Jabari. Since then, reports say, the IDF has struck around 200 targets in Gaza. Furthermore, Israel is threatening to go as far as initiating a ground operation, sparking fears of a repetition of the Cast Lead scenario.
The Israeli Defense Force (IDF), which has engaged in a Twitter showdown since the very beginning of the strikes, said it targets only “terror sites”. However, this has been questioned by witnesses on social media who point out that only four people of the 13 so far killed by Israeli airstrikes were Hamas militants, while the rest were civilians, including women and children.
Civilian casualties included the baby of BBC Arabic journalist Jihad Masharawi, who lost his 11-month-old son, along with his sister-in-law. He also has a brother wounded by a strike.
Israeli strikes have led to a spiraling escalation of conflict, with Hamas already saying it is now in a state of “open war” with Israel and threatening to send in suicide bombers.
The IDF stated that more than 130 rockets were fired from Gaza at locations in Israel during the last 24 hours. Three people have been killed on the Israeli side.
The Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, has announced it is launching “Operation Shale Stones” in response to Israel’s “Pillar of Defense”.
These kinds of statements call into question how long the conflict is actually going to last and spark fears of even further escalation which would draw more civilian casualties.
Meanwhile, experts are starting to question the timing of the Israeli attack on Gaza which is not viewed as accidental. Israel will hold a general election on January 22 and conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pledged to retaliate harshly against Hamas.
Eric Draitser, a geopolitical analyst for Stop Imperialism sees the attack as fitting in with the pre-election campaign to influence Israel's general election.
“The timing of the attack is not a coincidence. Even though Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seen as the only option, he was also pushing hard for Romney to win,” Draitser told RT. “And now this attack could be one of the ways Netanyahu is trying to exercise his own power in the country, showing that Israel is not weak and that the administration will push forward with this imperialistic agenda no matter who won the US election.”
Freelance journalist Lior Sternfeld has drawn a direct parallel between the pre-election November 2012 attack on Gaza and the 2008-2009 pre-election attack.
Even though Netanyahu does not face much opposition, “he knows that the way to ensure his victory in the upcoming elections will be by diverting the public discourse from demands of social justice to existential threats imposed on Israel by the bogeyman – Hamas,” Sternfeld argues in his column for Informed Comment.
He also believes that Hamas’ retaliatory response was predictable and even more so, encouraged.
“With the 2013 elections just months away, Israel decided to break a ceasefire and assassinate the Hamas senior military persona, Ahmed Jabari,” Sternfeld writes. “And as expected Hamas responded with firing rockets on Israel’s southern regions and a full-scale war is being evolved.”
Israel’s National Security Minister Avi Dichter stated that “we have no intention to end this round of fighting and suffer more hits in the next.”
But Israeli civilians are already suffering. Three people were killed by a rocket strike from Gaza on Thursday, and there are dozens of injured including three children.
There have also been reports of Israeli residents experiencing panic attacks from Hamas rockets that were sent back in retaliation.
All schools within a 40km range of Gaza have been closed. People living within a 7km range of the Gaza border are not allowed to leave their homes and gatherings of over 100 people in one place are prohibited, Yeshiva World News reports.
About 100 people protested outside Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s apartment in Tel Aviv Wednesday night following the start of the offensive on Gaza. The activists were shouting “Money for welfare, not war," thus indicating that they see the operation as an attempt to distract people’s attention from Israel’s own internal problems.
Palestinian protesters also marched in the West Bank city of Ramallah in support of the people of the Gaza Strip and against Israeli airstrikes.
“It is killing children and women; it is injuring scores of people. The way it tries to assassinate military targets is illegal because it is using indiscriminate and reckless amounts of force,” documentary maker and activist Harry Fear, who is currently in the region, told RT.
“Tomorrow Israel expects to launch the ground incursion of the Gaza Strip, including central parts of Gaza City. International reporters and activists on the ground believe this is the beginning of another full-scale war similar to the one in 2008-2009,” he added.