Israel’s dash from Gaza

Israeli soldiers return from the Gaza Strip (AFP Photo / Jack Guez)
Israel stepped up its withdrawal from the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, intending to pull out all its units before Barack Obama was sworn in as president of the United States, reports Abraham Rabinovich for RT.

The government in Jerusalem was hoping to keep its neighbourhood disputes from cluttering the desk of the new US president on his first day in office. Although Israelis share the excitement of Obama’s accession to power and the widespread sense of a new beginning, there is also concern about where his promised involvement in the Middle East will take him.

There is some fear that any attempt at “even-handedness” will inevitably move him closer to the Arab point of view compared to President George W. Bush – one of the most pro-Israeli presidents Washington has seen.

On the other hand, there are also hopes that Obama may be able to promote a peace process precisely because he is perceived in the Arab world as being less committed to Israel despite his pro-Israel statements.

Israel began releasing reservists mobilized three weeks ago for the Gaza operation as troops from the standing army emerging from Gaza deployed on the strip’s periphery. Some 200 trucks carrying humanitarian aid were permitted by Israel to cross over into Gaza.

The Egyptian newspaper Al Ahram reported Monday that Hamas’s political leader Khaled Mashaal said on Friday that Hamas had not expected the Israeli attack to last more than three days. It lasted 22 days. He told Arab leaders at a conference in Qatar that he had expected masses of demonstrators to turn out in Arab countries demanding that Egypt open its crossing point into Gaza. There were some demonstrations but the crossing remains closed.

Meanwhile, Hamas officials emerged from their hideouts in the Gaza Strip on Monday to find entire streets and neighborhoods destroyed by Israeli air and ground attacks.

“The Israelis did this deliberately to tell the people ‘This is because you elected Hamas’”, an official told a radio interviewer as he surveyed the destruction. “And they were saying ‘this is what will happen if you elect them again’.”

Officials in Gaza remained defiant. “We are in a powerful, victorious position,” said Mushir al-Masri, a Hamas spokesman. “Israel will soon learn that the balance of power has shifted in Hamas’s favour.”

A major question is whether the Israeli attack will make Gaza’s population identify more closely with Hamas or whether a majority will come to blame Hamas for the destruction. Expressions in both veins could be heard in media interviews. Israel and Egypt have portrayed Hamas as a proxy of Iran and say that Teheran is using Hamas to further its own interests.

An Israeli official said the “real battle for Gaza” was only now beginning, as the relevant parties attempt to shape the political fallout of the war. At an Arab economic summit Sunday in Kuwait, $2 billion was pledged in aid for Gaza. Egypt and other moderate Arab states said the money will be channeled through the Palestinian Authority in order to give its moderate leader, President Mahmoud Abbas, a foothold in Gaza.