The latest wave of murderous Israeli air strikes on Gaza, which began on March 9, appeared aimed at raising pressure for war on Iran and undermining Palestinian group Hamas.
Al Jazeera said on March 13 that 25 Palestinians had been killed by Israeli forces in the first four days of air strikes. It said 18 of the dead had been identified as resistance fighters.
A Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) report on March 12 said 73 Palestinians, mostly civilians, were wounded in the strikes.
A truce negotiated by Egypt on March 13 slowed the fighting, but air strikes by Israel continued. A small number of homemade rockets fired by Palestinian resistance groups into Israel also continued.
The PCHR reported on clear examples of Israel targeting civilians. It said that on March 12 “an Israeli warplane fired a missile at a gathering of Palestinian civilians, mostly children, near al-Khuzondar fuel station in the west of the northern Gaza Strip town of Jabalya”.
“As a result, Nayef Sha’ban Nayef Qarmout, 14, was killed, and another five children were wounded by shrapnel.”
Also that day, “an Israeli warplane fired a missile at Mohammed Mustafa al-Hussoumi, 65, and his daughter Faiza, 30, when they were on their agricultural plot near Tal al-Za’tar School in the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Lahia”.
“The old man was instantly killed, and his daughter died a few minutes after her admission in Kamal Edwan Hospital in Beit Lahia.”
Israel's latest attacks began with an air strike that killed leader of the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) Zuhair Al-Qaisi and his military escort, Mahmoud Al-Hannani.
The Israeli government justified these executions with its usual method of making dubious, unverifiable claims against the dead.
Israel claimed the two were “plotting a large terrorist attack along the border with Egypt”, the Jerusalem Post said on March 11. The two were also blamed for planning the murder of eight Israelis in Eilat in August last year, despite the fact that Egyptian authorities had arrested the culprit in November, Mondoweiss.net said on March 11.
The executions appeared to be a deliberate move by Israel to provoke retaliatory rocket fire from Palestinian groups. Israel used the rocket fire to justify further attacks on Gaza in “self-defence”.
Yaakov Katz said in the Post on March 10: “Assessments ahead of the decision to bomb the car carrying Zuhair Qaisi predicted that around 100 rockets could be fired into Israel during each day of the round of violence expected to erupt.”
Despite the disproportionate killing of Palestinians, the mainstream media focused on the “terrorist” rocket fire from Gaza. About 200 rockets were fired into Israel throughout the four days, Haaretz.com said on March 14. Al Jazeera said on March 13 that three Israelis had been injured by rocket fire from Gaza.
Praise was lavished on Israel's “Iron Dome” rocket defence system, which destroyed many rockets.
The Israeli government went to great lengths to link the rocket fire to the Iranians. Israel has been the loudest voice calling for war on Iran over dubious claims it is seeking to develop nuclear weapons, or could seek to at some point in the future.
Israel is the only nuclear-armed state in the Middle East.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went as far as to tell the Knesset (Israeli parliament) on March 14: “Gaza is Iran.”
IsraelNationalNews.com reported on March 11 that Netanyahu said: “The fire from Gaza is an Iranian problem, not a Palestinian problem.”
Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad, responsible for much of the rocket fire, is accused by Israel of being a proxy for Iran.
The assault on Gaza occurred just days after Netanyahu returned from meetings in Washington with US President Barack Obama about Iran, Mondoweiss.net said on March 11.
Revealing tactical differences between the close allies, Obama delivered a rare public rebuke of Netanyahu's "loose talk of war", The Guardian said on March 9.
Another goal of Israel's offensive was to cause problems for Hamas, which governs Gaza.
Despite Hamas playing no role in the recent retaliation, the Israeli government still blamed it for the attack.
The Israeli Defence Force said on March 13: “The Hamas terror organisation is solely responsible for any terrorist activity emanating from the Gaza Strip.”
Israel appears keen to provoke Hamas into breaking a ceasefire agreement it made in Egypt last year.
Hamas's moves towards creating a Palestinian unity government with its rival Fatah could reflect Hamas moving towards the compromised position of Fatah, which is limiting its demands to a divided, limited Palestinian state based on parts of the territory occupied by Israel since 1967.
But such moves could also pose a threat to Israel's plans.
Zvi Bar'el said on Haaretz.com on March 11: “It seems that the change in Hamas not only hasn’t convinced Israel, but even stands in the way of its 'no partner' policy and could sabotage its efforts to head off the creation of a Palestinian unity government, which would lead to renewed efforts at the UN to secure an independent Palestinian state.”
However, Hamas did not fall for the provocation and break its ceasefire.
Meanwhile, the Knesset moved to crack down on statements of support for the Gazan people within Israel.
Netanyahu and other members of the Knesset reacted with outrage to a Facebook post by parliamentarian Ahmad Tibi of the United Arab List, which said: “Be strong, oh Gaza. Stay steadfast, oh Gaza.”
YnetNews.com reported on March 12 that Danny Danon, a member of Netanyahu's Likud Party, said: “Tibi is a terrorist disguised as a Knesset member. He has crossed every red line imaginable. In any other country he would spend the rest of his life behind bars.”
The Post said on March 12 that Tzipi Hotovely of Likud put a bill that would ban any Knesset member who supported armed combat against Israel or supported “terrorist” organisations.