Foreign Policy in Focus, January 7, 2009 - Israel has repeatedly claimed that it had "no choice" but to wage war on Gaza on December 27 because Hamas had broken a ceasefire, was firing rockets at Israeli civilians, and had "tried everything in order to avoid this military operation," as Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni put it.
This claim, however, is widely at odds with the fact that Israel's military and political leadership took many aggressive steps during the ceasefire that escalated a crisis with Hamas, and possibly even provoked Hamas to create a pretext for the assault. This wasn't a war of "no choice," but rather a very avoidable war in which Israeli actions played the major role in instigating.
Israel has a long history of deliberately using violence and other provocative measures to trigger reactions in order to create a pretext for military action, and to portray its opponents as the aggressors and Israel as the victim. According to the respected Israeli military historian Zeev Maoz in his recent book, Defending the Holy Land, Israel most notably used this policy of "strategic escalation" in 1955-1956, when it launched deadly raids on Egyptian army positions to provoke Egypt's President Nasser into violent reprisals preceding its ill-fated invasion of Egypt; in 1981-1982, when it launched violent raids on Lebanon in order to provoke Palestinian escalation preceding the Israeli invasion of Lebanon; and between 2001-2004, when Prime Minister Ariel Sharon repeatedly ordered assassinations of high-level Palestinian militants during declared ceasefires, provoking violent attacks that enabled Israel's virtual reoccupation of the West Bank.
Israel's current assault on Gaza bears many trademark elements of Israel's long history of employing "strategic escalation" to manufacture a major crisis, if not a war....
Steve Niva, a professor of International Politics and Middle East Studies at The Evergreen State College, is a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus. He is currently writing a book on the relationship between Israel's military violence and Palestinian suicide bombings.