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In the last two days, Israeli forces have killed at least 15 residents of the Gaza Strip and wounded over 30. Among the dead are two young boys (see here and here), while the wounded included a reporter from the Ma'an News Agency and his pregnant wife. Militant factions in Gaza have responded to the Israeli assault by launching several homemade rockets at Southern Israel, leaving two injured and no one dead.
The Israeli army claimed that it initiated the assault on Gaza in order to kill two alleged militants who supposedly "masterminded" a brazen and deadly terror attack near the Israeli city of Eilat in August of last year. The army also claimed the two were planning a new operation. According to Al Jazeera English's Jerusalem correspondent Paul Brennan:
"The Israeli army is saying these two people it targeted with its clinical airstrike on Friday night were senior militants who were plotting an attack.
"The Israeli army says that last year's attack on the road that runs alongside the Egyptian border, where eight people were killed and 25 Israeli soldiers were wounded, was masterminded by the two men they targeted.
"Zuhair Al-Qaissi and Mahmoud Al-Hannani were said to have been behind these attacks, and the Israeli army said that these two men were planning a similar attack and that is why they launched their aerial clinical attack."
The Jerusalem Post, which functions as a virtual bulletin board for the Israeli army, told a similar story: "The IDF said it decided to bomb Qaisi's car due to intelligence that he was plotting a large terrorist attack along the border with Egypt," the paper reported, "similar to the one the [Popular Resistance Committee] carried out last August that killed eight Israelis."
As is so often the case, the Israeli army is lying. According to the army's own investigation of the Eliat attack last year, the attackers were not from Gaza as Israeli government spokespeople initially claimed -- they were Egyptian. The army's investigative findings were first reported by Alex Fishman, the military correspondent for the Israeli daily Yedioth Aharanoth, who had treated the earlier attempts to blame Gaza's Popular Resistance Committees for Eilat with extreme skepticism. Bloggers Idan Landau [Hebrew only], Richard Silverstein and Yossi Gurvitz also marshaled evidence shredding the army's case against Gaza.
Finally, in November, Egyptian security forces arrested the suspected mastermind of the Eilat plot, shattering the Israeli army's initial claims about Gazan culpability. By then, however, Israeli forces had already killed 30 Gazans in retaliation for an attack they had absolutely nothing to do with.
This weekend, the Israeli army reverted to falsely blaming Gazans for last August's Eilat attacks, contradicting its own investigation and heaps of evidence proving the attacks were planned in Egypt and carried out by Egyptians. The army has no proof that the men it assassinated on Friday -- Al-Qaissi and Al-Hannani -- were involved in the Eilat attacks, or that they were planning any military operations. So to manufacture a violent confrontation, the Israeli military simply concocted a lie that conceals what appears to be political considerations.
The renewed assault on Gaza coincided with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's return to Israel after days of discussions in Washington with President Barack Obama about Iran's nuclear program. Netanyahu had hoped to secure a solid commitment from Obama to authorize an attack on Iran, or to at least support an Israeli strike in the near future. Instead, he was rebuked, with Obama condemning Netanyahu's "loose talk of war" and warning him not to strike Iran. During his speech at AIPAC, Netanyahu was forced to mute his demand for Obama to agree to "red lines" on Iran's nuclear program that would trigger a US attack, descending instead into an incoherent, demagogic rant about a "nuclear duck" and the Holocaust. If Bibi accomplished anything during his visit to Washington, it was keeping the Palestinians off the discussion table, guaranteeing his government a free hand to build expand settlements in the West Bank and attack Gaza with impunity.
Almost as soon as he limped back to Jerusalem in frustration, Netanyahu gathered with his generals to gin up a case for pounding Gaza. The Gaza Strip, with its warehoused population of stateless refugees, would serve as their punching bag and pressure release valve. They could not have their war on Iran -- not yet, at least -- but they could assault Palestinians in Gaza without fear of repercussions from Washington.
Yesterday, as the Gazan death toll climbed into the teens, US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice took to Twitter to declare: "We thoroughly condemn terrorist rocket fire from Gaza into southern Israeli towns & cities and call on both sides to restore calm."