So what is Israel trying to achieve with its assault on Gaza? And what role is being played by the US and its outgoing and incoming presidents?
In many ways, the best parallel is provided by Israel’s war on Lebanon in 2006. Then as now, the supposed aim was to stop attacks on Israel by a radical Islamist movement – Hizbollah in Lebanon in 2006, Hamas in Gaza today.
Then as now, Israeli leaders raised the stakes, declaring that they were going to take their enemies out altogether. “What I think we need to do is to reach a situation in which we do not allow Hamas to govern,” said Haim Ramon, Israeli deputy prime minister on Friday last week.
Then as now, George Bush gave the Israeli offensive diplomatic cover, blocking international calls for an immediate ceasefire. The aim, once again, is to give Israel time to bring its operations to a successful conclusion.
But there’s the rub. Israel’s Lebanon war was a fiasco. The air bombardment that slaughtered civilians increased Israel’s international unpopularity. Hizbollah survived the assault and gave Israeli troops a bloody nose in the chaotic ground operation ordered by panicking politicians near the war’s end.
Many commentators think that one major motive for the present assault on Gaza is to wipe out the memory of this defeat and to reinstate the image of Israeli military invincibility. But this only makes sense if the operation will succeed.
The experts are divided on this. Last Sunday’s New York Times quoted Israeli military planners, who said “Gaza is smaller and flatter than southern Lebanon and, most important, does not have a sieve-like border with a country like Syria where arms can be constantly resupplied.”
“Destroying the smuggler tunnels from the Egyptian Sinai into Gaza and systematically eliminating weapons depots and launcher sites, along with their supporting infrastructures, will ultimately succeed,” they contend.
The current ground invasion seems aimed at undermining Hamas’s military capabilities and political power by carving Gaza up. But this puts Israeli troops in harm’s way.
Shlomo Gazit, a retired Israeli general who used to be military governor of the Occupied Territories, warned the Washington Post, “Ground forces moving into the Gaza Strip and finding themselves encircled by one and half million Palestinians would be a guaranteed catastrophe for the people in Gaza and for us.”
But even if the Israeli assault were to seriously weaken Hamas, which seems unlikely, it won’t change the fundamental situation in the slightest.
There will still be millions of impoverished Palestinians bottled up in Gaza and the West Bank, seething with resentment. Hamas would be replaced, not by the discredited Fatah, but by more radical movements committed to armed struggle.
One of the many reasons why such great hopes are invested in Barack Obama is the belief that he might try to seriously address this impasse. It’s widely believed that Israel timed its assault on Gaza to coincide with Bush’s last days in office.
According to the New York Times, “Israeli officials could not be certain that president‑elect Barack Obama, despite past statements of sympathy for Israel’s right of self-defence, would match the Bush administration’s unconditional endorsement.”
There is absolutely no evidence that Obama will break the mould of US support for Israel. His chief of staff, Rahm Emmanuel, served in the Israeli Defence Forces.
So far Obama has avoided coming out strongly in support of Israel. This is probably because he is trying to keep the initiative on Middle East policy. But his silence is being interpreted in the Arab world as tacit support for the Israeli demolition of Gaza.
The war will cause a lot of bloodshed and suffering, overwhelmingly to the Palestinians. But it won’t change anything. A Zionist state founded on the dispossession of the Palestinians will be eternally at war. Never was the slogan “No justice, no peace” more true.