US backpedaling in its support for Israel’s brutal invasion of Gaza and the destruction of the entire northern half of the walled-off and blockaded territory that is home and prison for 2.3 million trapped Palestinians. This stepping back from full-throated support for Israel is occurring however, only after Israel achieved or claimed to have achieved its stated initial goal of gaining control of the Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza City.
Likely the shift in the US government’s position on the IDF’s record bombing and shelling campaign is happening because the Israel Defense Force has not been able to convincingly display the “underground command center” that it for weeks has claimed justified its siege and eventual attack and shutdown of that key tertiary hospital.
The earlier declarations by governments in Jerusalem and Washington that their two “intelligence” services were both “confident” that there was a Hamas “command and control center” operating in a Hamas bunker secretly constructed underneath the hospital and connected to a network of reinforced tunnels leading into and out of the hospital, have not been borne out. Instead, what the so-called IDF has offered up after all the bloodletting is a cellar constructed 40 years ago under Israeli supervision in a “Building 2” addition, and a tunnel leading to what seems to have been a perhaps a hidden apartment/bomb shelter behind a blast door, according to a Newsweek report and to a report in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
The basement initially suggested to be a ‘headquarters,’ but which is now no longer talked about, built well before the founding of Hamas, was never a secret because it was included in the hospital addition plans and was put there initially to serve as a laundry room.
The only thing IDF troops found when they finally stormed and took full control of the hospital was was a small cache of arms including 15 automatic weapons and grenades, and a computer allegedly containing images of Israeli hostages on its hard drive — both finds said to be evidence that Hamas fighters were using the hospital, perhaps as a place to store weapons, and possibly to hold some hostages at some point. This cache, if actually found in the hospital, are hardly evidence of the hospital’s hiding the Hamas “command and control center” which Israel had, with such certitude, been insisting would provide the justification for its brutal attack and takeover of the hospital and for the “collateral” deaths of hundreds of patients, medical personnel, and even premie babies on incubators that failed once deprived of electricity.
Further contributing to the growing skepticism of some news organizations in the US and Britain about the veracity of Israeli claims are indications that the IDF was careful apparently not to allow the few journalists to enter the hospital along with or following its troops to actually look into the boxes labeled “baby food” which they claimed to have found in the “bunker.” Instead, the weapons were presented after being laid out on a tarp as an exhibit.
That is to say, the exhibit lacked what a criminal trial would call “a chain of evidence” showing the origin of the find, and how it reached the exhibition point.
This has led even many formerly credulous US news outlets to start using qualifiers like “the IDF claimed to have found” the weapons in the hospital, and even, in the case of the alleged Hamas computer, “claimed to have images of hostages on them.” Some journalists and editors too, perhaps picking up the change in wording on offer by Israeli flaks, are now referring to the IDF’s hdiscovery not of a command-and-control “center,” but rather a command-and-control “node.” The original term implied something like a buried Hamas “Pentagon,” which clearly was not what they found, while the latter term sounds like, at most, a minor link in a network of local command posts.
Now, it’s certainly possible that the IDF did “find” a longstanding basement that had been appropriated by Hamas fighters before being emptied in the days before the Israeli troops’ entry into the hospital. But even if that is were the case, news reports are speculating (perhaps also at the suggestion of IDF or Israeli government sources), that since no network of tunnels has yet been found, perhaps Hamas control node personnel purportedly in the basement may have escaped by ‘blending in” with the staff and refugees who were allowed to evacuate at the end of the siege of the hospital facility before IDF troops entered in force. In any case, as Israel had the plans for the hospital complex, they didn’t “find” that basement. They knew where right it was and went to it.
One would think, given the spreading global outrage, including among a growing number of US citizens, among them many young Jewish Americans and liberal and orthodox rabbis, and among not a few Israelis too, over the IDF’s unconscionabl carpet bombardment of Gaza (now being described as the largest sustained bombing campaign of this century, including the US bombardments of Iraq’s cities), the targeted bombing of refugee camps, UN schools and hospitals, and the collective punishment visited upon all Gazans with the cutoff of food, water, electricity and medicine that is still ongoing, that the Netanyahu government and the IDF, would have wanted reporters to accompany them in at least “discovering” that bunker and any weapons and computers that might turn up. One would think they would have wanted those reporters to witness as those computers were checked out to discover what was on them, to prevent the kind of skeptical coverage that is now dogging them.
All of this is critically important because the Israeli blitzkrieg on Gaza, which has killed over 14,000 people (a quarter of them children), with an unknown number buried and impossible to rescue under the rubble of the IDF’s leveling of Gaza City and other population centers), was specifically launched to avenge the Hamas break-out attack on Oct. 7. That was when some thousand or more Israeli civilians and troops living and working in settlements and bases outside of the wall surrounding Gaza were slain, including children, and when over 200 were kidnapped and brought back to Gaza as hostages.
To be sure, the deliberate killing of civilians in Israel by Hamas fighters that day was by definition a war crime. But under the laws or war, a war crime by one side in a conflict does not justify a war crime in response by the other side. To make matters worse, Israeli’s invasion and blockade are far more serious war crimes, both in the scale of the killing and injuring of civilians and because its leaders have openly called for collective “punishment” of all Palestinians in Gaza, and in practice have been doing precisely that. So the seeming imperative for Israel to come up with some kind of evidence to justify its indiscriminate violence against the residents of Gaza ought to have led them to offer up incontrovertible proof of Hamas perfidy.
If what they IDF has come up with so far at the Al Shifa Hospital is all it has to show for the epic violence and death it has wrought, it and the Netanyahu government have come up short.
This failure thus far for Israel and its vaunted and self-described “humanitarian” military to come up with evidence of a Hamas underground army and hospital-based command-and-control center or network of command-and-control “nodes” has led to the frankly infuriating behind-the-scenes spectacle of US emissaries like Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and other top Biden administration cheerleaders for Israel’s war on Gaza, and President Biden himself, now begging the Netanyahu government to realize that, as a CNN report puts it, “There is limited time for Israel to try to accomplish its stated objective of taking out Hamas in its current operation before uproar over the humanitarian suffering and civilian casualties – and calls for a ceasefire – reaches a tipping point.”
I say infuriating because this has been classic (and usually failed) US modus operandi throughout its own whole series of unrelenting wars over the nearly eight decades since the end of WWII: Go in big, do the bloody mass destruction and killing thing, or in the case of Vietnam, the brutal attacks on peasant villages and the search-and-destroy missions and relocation of populations into fenced-in “strategic hamlets” guarded by troops, the My Lai-style massacres and the “secret” and B-52 bombings of Cambodia, as quickly as possible, and hope to win before losing the support of the American people.
It is a cynical strategy that in practice has not worked very well for the US, as Nixon learned with his Christmas B-52 carpet bombing of North Vietnam, or as George W. Bush learned with his “Shock and Awe” attack on Iraq. But hope springs eternal for US leaders with their imperialist, ‘exceptional nation” chutzpah., so we’ve also had the disastrous Obama-backed overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya and more recently Biden’s propping up of Ukraine’s attempt to reclaim majority ethnic Russian parts of that former Soviet “state” including Crimea, including with the provision of anti-personnel explosives and depleted uranium tank shells. All of which are examples of US military adventures that begin by going in big and have turned into the dragged-out failures that Americans gradually turned against in large numbers.
In Israel’s case, this bloody-minded calculus is slightly different: Netanyahu and/or his Likud party coalition might well be able to rely on continued support from their hard-core zionist supporters (for whom no amount of violence against Palestinians is too much to stomach) to cling to power. But in the US, upon which Israel relies for $3.8 billion a year in free military weapons and ammunition, and diplomatic support in the UN, where the US reliably blocks any Security Council actions which target Israel, the public is becoming increasingly disenchanted with Israel’s brutal treatment of Palestinians under its control, whether in Gaza, the occupied West Bank, or within the original borders of pre-’67 War Israel.
That is to say, President Biden, who has called himself a “proud zionist” and a solid backer of Israel, but who is facing an increasingly tough-looking re-election campaign in less than a year, is beginning to wonder if his support of a long bloody Israeli war on and occupation of Gaza, not to mention the continuing and increasingly violent occupation of the West Bank by the IDF and the continued expansion of violent land-grabbing settlers in that region, is such a great idea.
Update: It’s hard to know what to make of a story in Euronews reporting that disgraced former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is saying that the alleged “Hamas command center” was never located in or under the Al Shifa Hospital. Olmert is claiming that the missing “control center” is located at the southern end of the Gaza Strip near the border with Egypt in the city of Khan Younis. If so, Israeli and US intelligence about Hamas is worse than anyone imagined, and the massive destruction of the northern half of Gaza, and the IDF assault on the Al Shifa Hospital along with the thousands of civilians killed in those activities, besides their being war crimes, were based on an error.
The US, true to form and starting to sound a lot like the Bush/Cheney administration and its long effort against unsupported by any real evidence to insist that Saddam Hussein was actually making and hiding those mystical ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction,” is trying to hide from responsibility by still insisting that its intel (which of course no one in the media is allowed to see) is saying that the Hamas mythical command-and-control center is or was in the Al Sharif Hospital.