Invasion of Gaza: An Election Strategy?

On February 10, 2009, Israel will hold an election. The current PM, Ehud Olmert, who stepped in as Acting PM after Ariel Sharon suffered his fatal stroke in 2006, did not allow his name to stand for leadership of his party, Kadima. Tzipi Livni, the Foreign Minister, won the party's nomination in September. The other contenders on February 10 will be Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud) and Ehud Barak (Labor), the latter currently serving as the Defence Minister.

Livni has been taking a hard line in the conflict with Hamas in Gaza. "Hamas targets Israel whenever it likes and Israel shows restraint. This is no longer going to be the equation in this region."

Al Jazeera notes: "With an election due in Israel next month such a message from a woman who wants to be the next prime minister will do her prospects at the poll no harm."

Could Livni be so crass as that? Her competition is stiff. Benjamin Netanyahu's rhetoric is positively priapic: "The action that is required is something that removes this Hamas regime from the scene....With all the means necessary to achieve it." According to Barak, Israel "has a war to the bitter end against Hamas and its branches."

Kadima is closing in according to the latest polls. After riding high on the initial buzz when she contemplated the leadership of Kadima, Livni lost ground to Netanyahu's Likud. By mid-December, however, Livni rallied to pull even with Netanyahu. Could the invasion of Gaza and the elimination of Hamas--incurring along the way all the collateral damage that entails, mostly dead, non-combatant Palestinians--have simply been a strategy to put Livni over the top? To show Iron Lady resolve in advance of the election? Or maybe to allow Barak to win a few more seats for Labor.

Hamas is responding to the threat with characteristic bloodthirsty rhetoric, defiance, and reckless endangerment of the citizens it is charged to protect. The Times of London reports Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar uttered the following disgusting threat: "They have legitimised the murder of their own children by killing the children of Palestine....They have legitimised the killing of their people all over the world by killing our people."

The Times continues: "Hamas, meanwhile, kept firing rockets into southern Israel, launching about 40 of its home-made Qassam rockets and more sophisticated Grad missiles. They again hit Beersheba, about 25 miles from Gaza. While Israeli forces have stormed into the northeastern area of the Strip, from where Hamas usually launches its projectiles, the Islamists have maintained their fire from within Gaza City.

"Many analysts believe that Hamas wants to goad Israel into its stronghold, a hellish landscape for urban combat, which the Islamists have had 18 months to prime with booby traps, ambushes and tunnels."

Monitor the fighting on this interactive map.

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