By Ramzy Baroud

There is a reason why Israel insists on linking the series of attacks carried out by Palestinians recently to a specific location – the the Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank. By doing so, the embattled government of Naftali Bennett can simply order another deadly military operation in Jenin to reassure its citizens that the situation is under control. Indeed, on 9 April, the Israeli army stormed the Jenin refugee camp, killing a Palestinian and wounding ten others. However, Israel’s problem is much bigger than Jenin. 

If we examine the events starting with the March 22 stabbing attack in the southern city of Beersheba (Bir Al Saba’) – which resulted in the death of four people – and ending with the killing of three Israelis in Tel Aviv – including two army officers – we easily reach an obvious conclusion: these attacks must have been, to some extent, coordinated. 

Spontaneous Palestinian retaliation to the violence of the Israeli occupation rarely follows this pattern in terms of timing or style. All the attacks, with the exception of Beersheba, were carried out using firearms. The shooters, as indicated by the amateur videos of some of the events and statements by Israeli eyewitnesses, were well-trained and acted with great composure. One example was the 27 March Hadera event, carried out by two cousins, Ayman and Ibrahim Ighbariah, from the Arab town of Umm al-Fahm, a Palestinian town inside Israel. Israeli media reported on the unmistakable skills of the attackers who were armed with weapons that, according to the Israeli news agency, Tazpit Press Service, cost more than $30 000.

Unlike Palestinian attacks carried out during the Second Palestinian Intifada (2000-2005) in response to Israeli violence in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the latest attacks are generally more precisely targeted, seek out police and military personnel, and are clearly aimed at shaking Israel’s false sense of security and undermining the state’s intelligence services. In the Bnei Brak attack, on 29 March, for example, an Israeli woman who was an eyewitness at the scene told reporters, ‘The militant asked us to move away from the place because he did not want to target women or children.’ 

While Israeli intelligence reports recently warned of a ‘wave of terrorism’ ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, they clearly had little conception of what type of violence to expect, or where and how Palestinians would strike.

Following the Beersheba attack, Israeli officials attributed it to the Islamic State group, which was a convenient claim considering that IS also claimed responsibility for it. That theory was, however, quickly dismissed, as it became obvious that the other Palestinian attackers had political affiliations to other Palestinian groups or, as in the Bnei Brak case, no known affiliation at all. 

The confusion and misinformation continued for days. Shortly after the Tel Aviv attack, Israeli media, citing official Israeli sources, mentioned two attackers, alleging that one had been trapped in a nearby building. This proved to be untrue; there was only one attacker, who was later killed, though hours after his attack and in a different city. 

A number of Palestinian workers were quickly rounded up in Tel Aviv on suspicion of being the attackers simply because they looked Arab, providing more evidence of the chaotic and confused Israeli approach. Indeed, after each of these Palestinian attacks, total mayhem ensued, with large mobs of armed Israelis taking to the streets looking for anyone with Arab features to apprehend or to beat senseless. Israeli officials – wittingly or unwittingly – contributed to the frenzy, with far-right politicians such as the extremist Itamar Ben Gvir leading hordes of other Jewish Israeli extremists in rampages across occupied Jerusalem. 

Instead of urging calm and displaying confidence, Israel’s prime minister on 30 March called on Israeli civilians to arm themselves. ‘Whoever has a gun licence, this is the time to carry it,” he said in a video statement, clearly inciting violence against Palestinians. However, if Israel’s solution to any form of Palestinian resistance is to carry more guns, Palestinians would have been pacified a long time ago. 

To placate angry Israelis, the Israeli military raided Jenin city and the Jenin refugee camp on many occasions, each time leaving behind several dead and wounded Palestinians, including many civilians. Among the dead were the child Imad Hashash, 15, killed on 24 August while filming the invasion of the refugee camp with his cellphone. The same scenario had played out on 9 April.  

Nevertheless, from the Israeli perspective, this was an exercise in futility; it was, after all, Israeli violence in Jenin throughout the years that had led to the organised armed resistance that continues to emanate from the camp. Palestinians, whether in Jenin or elsewhere, resist and fight back because they are denied basic human rights, have no political horizon, live in extreme poverty, have no true leadership and feel abandoned by the so-called international community. 

The Palestinian Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas seems to be entirely removed from the masses and their experience of occupation and resistance. Abbas’s statements reflect his detachment from the reality of Israeli violence, military occupation and apartheid throughout Palestine. True to form, Abbas quickly condemned the Tel Aviv attack, as he had one with previous ones, referring each time to the need to maintain ‘stability’ and to prevent ‘further deterioration of the situation’,  according to the official Wafa news agency. One would be forgiven for asking what stability Abbas was referring to, when Palestinian lives have not been stable for more than seven decades and when Palestinian suffering has been compounded by growing settler violence, illegal settlement expansion, land theft, and, thanks to recent international events, food insecurity as well.

Israeli officials and media are, again, conveniently placing the blame largely on Jenin, a tiny stretch of an overpopulated area. By doing so, Israel wants to give the impression that the new phenomenon of Palestinian retaliatory attacks is confined to a single place, one that is adjacent to the Israeli border and one that can easily be ‘dealt with’. 

An Israeli military operation in the camp may serve Bennett’s political agenda, convey a sense of strength, and win back some in his disenchanted political constituency, but it is a temporary fix – if any kind of fix at all. Attacking Jenin now will make no difference in the long run. After all, the camp rose from the ashes of its near-total destruction by the Israeli military in April 2002. And attacking Jerusalem and the Mosque of Al-Aqsa, as Israeli troops did on 15 April, will increase rather than reduce Palestinian resistance.

The renewed Palestinian attacks speak of a much wider geography: Naqab, Umm Al Fahm, the West Bank – with a clear shift towards more actions within Israel. The seeds of this territorial connectivity are linked to the Israeli war of May 2021 and the subsequent Palestinian rebellion, which erupted in every part of Palestine, including Palestinian communities inside Israel. 

Israel’s problem is its insistence on providing short-term military solutions to a long-term problem, itself resulting from these very ‘military solutions’. If Israel continues to subjugate the Palestinian people under the current system of military occupation, deepening apartheid and expansive colonisation, Palestinians will surely continue to respond until their oppressive reality is changed. No amount of Israeli violence can alter this truth. 

* Dr Ramzy Baroud is a Non-Rsident Senior Research Fellow at the Afro-Middle East Centre, a journalist and the Editor of The Palestine Chronicle. He is the author of six books. His latest, co-edited with Ilan Pappé, is Our Vision for Liberation: Engaged Palestinian Leaders and Intellectuals Speak out.

By Giorgio Cafiero

On 7 November, Haaretz reported that Saddam Haftar, the son of Khalifa Haftar, flew on a private French-made Dassault Falcon jet out of the United Arab Emirates and landed in Israel for a 90-minute visit before flying to Libya. The purpose was for Haftar and his son to pursue ‘military and diplomatic assistance from Israel’, according to the report.

With Libya’s elections scheduled for 24 December, this brief landing at Ben-Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv was part of Haftar’s electoral campaign. The eastern commander, who led the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) during Libya’s civil war, wants to differentiate himself from other Libyans seeking to become the country’s head of state.

‘It’s a way of distinguishing Haftar from the rest of the candidates and promising something that is supposed to have value in the eyes of the United States, but also in the eyes of other countries that embrace whatever the UAE – the main sponsor of Haftar – has been doing through its activism in the region, which means Egypt, France, Morocco, and you can go down the list,’ said Jalel Harchaoui, a researcher at Global Initiative, in an interview with The New Arab. ‘It’s a way of Haftar saying “If you support me becoming president, here’s one tangible thing that I can deliver for you and no one else can.”’

The relationship between Haftar and the Israelis is not a new partnership; it dates back to 1987. ‘Contacts between Libyans and Israelis have been underway for some time – probably through the Mossad and other organisations – and it is not surprising that they have intensified lately, given the proximity of the elections in Libya,’ explained Dr Federica Saini Fasanotti, a non-resident fellow at the Center for Security, Strategy, and Technology in the Foreign Policy program at the Brookings Institution.

What made Saddam Haftar’s brief visit to Tel Aviv significant was not the substance of the relationship between his father and Israel, but rather the decision to make it known to the whole world rather than concealing it.

Libya’s fractures and divisions

Politically speaking, eastern and western Libya have major differences that are relevant to any discussion of the North African country entering the Abraham Accords, the agreement brokered by the former US president, Donald Trump, between Israel and a number of Arab states. In Libya’s east, political Islam does not exist; n western Libya, political Islam might not necessarily be extremely popular, but it exists. Whereas eastern Libya is somewhat reflective of the UAE and Egypt’s political systems, the west has much more in common with Tunisia and Algeria, where the Palestinian cause is considered ‘sacred’, as Algeria’s President Abdelmadjid Tebboune put it. Also, the Turkish influence in western Libya matters too, particularly considering Ankara’s efforts to position itself as a defender of the Palestinian struggle.

Within this context, Haftar being the head of state and deciding to bring the country into the Abraham Accords risks reigniting major tensions in Libya. ‘If you broach a topic like normalisation with Israel, you’re going to intensify what differentiates the eastern part of Libya from the western part,’ according to Harchaoui. The implications could be toxic from the standpoint of bringing Libyans together in a post-conflict era. ‘The western part of Libya is the most populous part, containing more than two-thirds of the population,’ said the Europe-based Libya expert. ‘When you look at that part of the population and you say, “I hereby declare normalisation with Israel”, you go [against] all the [UN-led] efforts…to try to avoid a partition of the nation, try to promote unification, reconciliation, and integration.’

US foreign policy implications

Like his predecessor, President Joe Biden and those in his administration believe that adding more Arab countries to the Abraham Accords must be a US foreign policy objective. A bipartisan consensus behind this stance exists among American lawmakers. Hence it is fair to conclude that Haftar promising to bring Libya into the Abraham Accords could help him a fair amount in Washington despite condemnations which the eastern commander has received from certain American officials over the years as well as lawsuits filed against him in US courts.

‘There are many decision-makers [in the USA] who don’t really care about the reality of Libya,’ according to Harchaoui. ‘They say, “If we could have a high-profile leader that embraces Israel, I don’t really care about the details of what happens on the ground. It’s still one step forward.” It’s basically the same reasoning that led Trump to recognise Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara. Like you disregard the consequences of the actual stability on the ground, and you say, “It’s a very nice victory from the point of view of acceptance of Israel, and I don’t care what happens on the ground.” You have a whole faction in Washington, DC that thinks in those terms.’

Indeed, among US officials there has been a total lack of concern for how the Abraham Accords have played out on the ground in the Arab region. In a Machiavellian manner, many policymakers in Washington believe in encouraging more Arab countries to normalise with Israel, regardless of the consequences. The fact that the transactional nature of Morocco entering the Abraham Accords in exchange for US recognition of Rabat’s sovereignty over Western Sahara has revived decades-old tensions between Morocco and Algeria doesn’t matter much to Washington. The same can be said about the tensions which the Abraham Accords have heightened in Bahrain between the government and opposition groups, as well as how the Trump administration’s extortion of Sudan severely harmed the country’s fragile democratic transition.

Israel becoming more and more accepted in the Middle East and North Africa’s diplomatic fold is what matters to officials in Washington and Abu Dhabi. ‘You have this complacency that leads the Biden administration to support the UAE worldview,’ explained Harchaoui. ‘The UAE worldview, acceptance of Israel – all of these philosophies require you to ignore what goes on in the real world.’

Israeli stakes in Libya

Libya-Israel ties would not only serve the interests of Haftar. Benefits could go both ways. Israel has many interests in Libya, from the North African country’s ‘highly strategic geographical position to unlimited energy’, explained Dr Fasanotti. ‘In this chess game, we must not forget the consistent presence of Turkey in Tripolitania which, given the tense relations with Israel and other countries over the issue of offshore gas in the eastern Mediterranean, certainly plays a primary strategic role.’

In eastern Libya, which is the part of the country closest to Palestine, there is a security architecture and political order that suits Israeli interests. The absence of any Islamist political opposition or pro-Palestinian/pro-Hamas groups in Libya’s east is satisfactory to Tel Aviv. It’s safe to bet that the Israelis would take steps to help this Egypt-like order survive over the years by strongly supporting Haftar if he becomes the next Libyan head of state. When asked if Haftar is the ‘Israeli horse in the [Libyan election] race’, Michael Oren, the former Israeli ambassador to the US, replied, ‘Yes, he’s in the race and it’s a track that has been well run.’

By having his son land on Israeli soil, shake hands, and signal a determination to normalise with Israel, Haftar is giving Israel a vested interest in his becoming Libya’s leader. As Marco Carnelos, a former Italian diplomat, noted, considering Haftar’s health issues he may be looking to establish a family dynasty in Libya that could put his son at the helm down the line. Therefore, having Saddam Haftar land in Israel could be about making a powerful statement about how much Haftar would like to invest in a partnership with Israel for the long haul if he is to win the 24 December elections.

At stake for Tel Aviv are also ‘the prestige and this impression of momentum with more Arab centres of power that one by one decide to embrace Israel,’ explained Harchaoui. ‘If Israel could actually maintain that narrative of a persistent momentum in that direction of more acceptability, it’s a form of a win.’

Impact on the Arab region’s geopolitical order

Libya entering the Abraham Accords would further signal success on the part of Emirati activism in Africa following Sudan and Morocco’s normalisation with Israel last year in deals that the UAE helped push through, plus Tunisia’s 25 July 2021 autogolpe which constituted another win for Abu Dhabi. A Haftar-led Libya formalising relations with Tel Aviv would serve the interests of the UAE, USA and, obviously, Israel too. But not all states in the Maghreb would see Libya’s entry into the Abraham Accords as good news.

From the perspective of Algiers, the expansion of Emirati influence in North Africa and the trend to normalise with Israel both threaten Algeria’s national interests. A concern among officialdom in Algiers is that Emirati activism in North Africa, specifically Abu Dhabi’s efforts to bring countries in the Maghreb and Sahel into the Abraham Accords, is leaving Algeria in a weaker and more vulnerable position. For example, after Rabat normalised with Israel in exchange for Washington’s recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara, the Algerian Prime Minister said that there was a ‘real threat on our borders, reached by the Zionist entity’.

‘Algeria would see any normalisation of ties with Israel by Haftar as evidence of the general’s designs on its stability and a grave escalation on his part,’ Sami Hamdi, the Managing Director of the International Interest, a global risk and intelligence company, told The New Arab. Indeed, there would be a concern that with both Morocco and Libya locked into diplomatic agreements with Israel, such relations with Tel Aviv could be weaponised against Algeria down the line.

* Giorgio Cafiero is the CEO of Gulf State Analytics. 

** This article was first published by The New Arab

Since its founding in 2002, as the successor to the Organisation of African Unity, the African Union (AU) has prided itself on maintaining a united stance as a continental organisation, of being able to make decisions on the basis of consensus, and on keeping the Union together even when individual member states might be disputing or warring with each other. That sense of unity has been jeopardised over the past three months as the issue of the accreditation of Israel to the AU threatens to split the body down the middle.

By Ramzy Baroud

Israeli anxiety was palpable after Israel’s prime minister, Benyamin Netanyahu, waited for days to be contacted by the new US president, Joe Biden, after the latter’s inauguration. While much is being read into Biden’s decision, including Washington’s lack of enthusiasm to return to the ‘peace process’, Moscow is generating attention as a possible alternative to the USA by hosting inter-Palestinian dialogue and discussing the future with leaders of Palestinian political groups. 

Publisher: Afro-Middle East Centre (AMEC)

Published: January 2021

Paperback: 272 pages

Language: English

ISBN: 978-0-9947048-2-5

Pre-Order Now. 

Pre-orders will be shipped out in mid-February 2021.

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