Gaza Strip – In February 2015, Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s new defence minister, who was serving as a foreign minister at the time, declared that; “a fourth operation in the Gaza Strip is inevitable, just as a third Lebanon war is inevitable.”
As the second anniversary of Israel’s war on Gaza, dubbed Operation Protective edge, approaches, Palestinians in the besieged coastal enclave say that Lieberman’s appointment as the Israel’s defence minister brings him a step closer to achieving his unsettling prophecy.
“We should not be fooled by Zionists who hate the Lieberman-Netanyahu unity,” wrote Refaat Alareer, a Palestinian writer and activists, “they, too, want Palestinians killed, but with [silk] scarves, not bombs!”
Lieberman, a staunch opponent of peace with Palestinians who heads of the extreme right wing party Yisrael Beiteinu, has served two terms as foreign minister and has little significant military experience.
Over the past few years, Gaza in particular bore the brunt of Lieberman’s bravado. During the 2014 war on Gaza, Lieberman publicly criticized Netanyahu accusing him of “not cracking down hard enough on Gaza”.
Since late 2008, Israel has carried out three major wars against Palestinians in Gaza. In July and August 2014, the Israeli army pounded Gaza from land, air and sea for 51 days. Of more than 2,200 Palestinians killed during that war, an estimated two-thirds were civilians, according to the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs. More than 18,000 housing units were severely damaged or destroyed in the July/August war.
Israel's war decisions are taken through considered strategies and within hierarchies. Lieberman is but one cog in the Israeli war machine.
There are more than 75,000 people who remain displaced across Gaza as a direct result of the July/August 2014 war.
Despite the relative calm since the August 26, 2014 ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, there have been more than 20 serious incidents that involved Israeli incursions, air raids, and missile exchanges with 23 Palestinians killed in the Gaza Strip since December 2015.
On May 5, the Israeli military has carried out air strikes on Gaza Strip in response to what it said were mortar rounds fired into its territory. One woman was killed in the ensuing fire exchange in addition to the reported injuries.
Lieberman has repeatedly advocated that Israel should re-occupy the Gaza Strip and conduct “a thorough cleansing of the enclave”, and supported targeted assassinations against Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip.
Last month, he said that if he were defence minister [of Israel], he would give Hamas’ Ismail Haniya 48 hours to hand over two detained Israeli civilians who crossed into Gaza as well as the bodies of soldiers killed in the 2014 war “or you’re dead”.
Lieberman’s new position has predictably invited scorn from Hamas and Palestinian factions. “If Lieberman is a real man, let him approach Gaza,” said senior Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahhar.
Fathi Hammad, Hamas’ former minister of interior, stated that Hamas is not intimidated by Lieberman’s threats to the movement’s leadership. “We do not call for war, but we will fight if it is imposed on us,” Hammad said. In a statement released on Thursday, the Palestinian foreign ministry,said Lieberman’s appointment “confirms the lack of a peace partner in Israel.”
The situation in the Strip, meanwhile, remains tense, with observers saying that any miscalculations might lead to a new, large-scale confrontation.
Palestinian analyst Adnan Abu Amer depicts a grimmer view of the days ahead, suggesting that Lieberman is in search for an opportunity to put the force of his newly acquired position on display.
“Israel faces a leadership crisis.This enables politicians like Netanyahu and Lieberman to promote their agenda.”
“The first stabbing operation in the West Bank or rocket launch from Gaza will telltale the nature of the days to come.”
Some of Lieberman’s hawkish stands include calling for the execution of certain Israeli Arab politicians, repeatedly questioning the loyalty of Israel’s Arab minority, proposing the beheading of anyone who opposes the Jewishness of Israel, and suggesting that Palestinian prisoners be drowned in the Dead Sea.
He even went as far as to indirectly hint at the possibility of nuking Gaza.
Ahmed Alfaleet, a former Palestinian prisoner and expert in Israeli affairs, says that despite his hawkish stands, Lieberman’s appointment will hardly change the Israeli agenda.
“Most massacres were committed by so-called peaceniks,” said Alfaleet adding that Lieberman stands at the periphery of decision-making in Israel.
“Israel’s decisions are taken through considered strategies and within hierarchies. Lieberman is but one cog in the Israeli war machine.”