Israel vows to fight Hamas to the end

AFP Photo / Menahem Kahana
Israel has pledged to fight Hamas to the death. Defence Minister Ehud Barack has said that the ongoing air strikes on Gaza are a ‘war to the bitter end against Hamas militants’.

Four Israelis and 360 Palestinians have been killed since the attacks began on Saturday.

Fighter jets continue to target symbols of Hamas power in the Gaza Strip, including universities and government compoutds. On Monday the home of a top commander was destroyed by a missile.

Israel says it’ll continue with its operation until its completely destroyed the militant organisation’s ability to function.

Across the border dozens of rockets continue to rain down on southern Israeli towns. Residents remain barricaded indoors.

Who gains from Gaza crisis?

Many in Israel are asking why now. Hamas, they say, has been firing Qassam rockets at them for eight years.

Questions are now being asked about whether the war is linked to Israeli elections, due to be held in six weeks. The early poll was called after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was charged with corruption.

Some believe that an effective war in Gaza will help him step down in a better light. Political analyst for the Israeli Ha’aretz newspaper, Akiva Eldar, says Olmert “is looking at the history books.”

However, Eldar says the PM will be remembered “as some one who stated with blunder in the North and finished with blunder in the South, because there is not going to be a happy end to this one.”

Eldar believes Defence Minister Ehud Barak – who’s also the leader of the coalition party in government – stands to gain most from the ongoing battle. Up until the weekend, Eldar says, the Israeli public had dismissed former PM Barak as a left-wing lightweight.

“Now he’s in the headlines, he’s on top of the news. The Israeli media was portraying him as someone who could not make a decision. And now it’s what people like. It’s again Barak, the hero from Sabena. This is where he’s at his best, in uniform,” Eldar said.

Israeli foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, whose also vying for the premiership, has the most to lose from the Gaza operation.

But she knows the Israeli public wants strong leaders, who can act tough with Hamas.

Israeli Politician, Yossi Sarid, said this is because “the experience of history in Israel shows that those who use more force are more successful.”

Over the past few days Ehud Barak has been reaping the political benefits of the operation in Gaza. However, only time will tell whether he can translate his new-found popularity into votes at an election.

There’s no uncertainty about who’s making benefiting economically. Oil prices have shot up since weekend.

“The conflict blew up in a region which is directly connected to oil production. Every conflict in the Middle East immediately brings an economic reaction from Arab states and that reaction is to increase oil prices. Oil will go up to sixty dollars a barrel,” economist Ofer Veksler said.

It’s unclear what the political fallout in Israel will be from the Gaza campaign. All three – Olmert, Barak and Livni – stand to gain should the conflict go well and Hamas is defeated. If it fails, or is perceived to have failed, it could spell disaster for their political futures.

World protests against Gaza violence

The attacks on Gaza have sparked protests around the world. Hundreds of demonstrators have turned up in front of the Israeli embassies in London and Berlin.

Larger protests have been held in the Middle East with crowds chanting slogans against Israel and the U.S.

In the US, the Bush administration has called for an end to the Middle East flare-up.

“We are working for a ceasefire now where Hamas must stop its rocket attacks on Israel. All sides then need to respect the ceasefire,” Gordon Johndroe, White House spokesman, said.

He added that Hamas has “once again shown its true colors as a terrorist organization”. The U.S. has asked Israel to avoid civilian casualties in Gaza.

Barack Obama’s incoming administration has refused to comment on the crisis, saying there is one president at a time and it’s still George W. Bush.

In New York, the Secretary General of the United Nations has repeated his calls for a renewed ceasefire.

Ban Ki-moon has condemned both Hamas for its rocket attacks on Israel and Tel-Aviv for what he describes as excessive violence.

“A ceasefire must be declared immediately. The sides must also curb the rhetoric, only then can dialogue start,” Ban Ki-Moon said.

The UN chief hit out at Middle Eastern countries and world powers, saying: “I think regional and international partners have not done enough, they should do more”.

He also said that Israel must open all its Gaza border crossings to avoid a full-scale humanitarian crisis.