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Israel and Hamas on the brink of war after assassination of military leader

Hamas military commander killed as Israel launches new Gaza offensive.

Israel and Hamas were on the brink of war today after Israeli air strikes in Gaza killed the head of Hamas's military wing and at least nine other Palestinians. Ahmed Said Khalil al-Jabari is the most senior Hamas official to be killed since the major Israeli offensive four years ago. He died in his car along with an aide as Israel launched more than 50 airstrikes across Gaza after days of rocket fire from the territory. Palestinian reports said 10 people died in the offensive, named Operation Pillar of Defence, including two children.

Hamas last night responded to the attacks by declaring that Israeli had "opened the doors of hell."

"The Israeli occupation has committed a dangerous crime and exceeded all red lines. This is considered to be a war and they will pay a high price."

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu said that the killing of al-Jabari  had sent a "clear message" to Hamas, adding: "if it becomes necessary we are prepared to expand the operation." In a statement on Twitter, the Israeli Defence Force said: "All options are on the table. If necessary, the IDF is ready to initiate a ground operation in Gaza."

In a telephone conversation with Netanyahu last night, Barack Obama reiterated US support for Israel's right to self-defence against rocket attacks from Gaza but urged Israel to avoid civilian casualties in the Palestinian territory. "The two agreed that Hamas needs to stop its attacks on Israel to allow the situation to de-escalate," the White House said.

An emergency meeting of the UN Security Council was held last night at the request of Egypt, Morocco and the Palestinians.

"Once again the international community is witness to Israel's malicious onslaught, using the most lethal military means and illegal measures against the defenceless Palestinian civilian population," the Palestinian Authority's UN envoy Riyad Mansour told the Council.

"A direct firm message must be sent to Israel to cease immediately its military campaign against the Palestinian people and to abide ... by its obligations under international law."

UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon told Netanyahu of his expectation that "Israeli reactions are measured so as not to provoke a new cycle of bloodshed that could cause additional civilian casualties and have dangerous spillover effects in the region," the UN said.

The British Foreign Office issued a statement saying: "We continue to call on all sides to exercise restraint to prevent a dangerous escalation that would be in no-one's interests."

Egypt, one of only two Arab countries to have a peace treaty with Israel, recalled its ambassador from the country and urged Arab leaders to take "decisive action".

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
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How can Labour break the Osborne supremacy?

The Conservative hegemony is deeply embedded - but it can be broken, says Ken Spours.

The Conservative Party commands a majority not just in the House of Commons, but also in the wider political landscape. It holds the political loyalty of expanding and powerful voting constituencies, such as the retired population and private sector businesses and their workers. It is dominant in English politics outside the largest urban centres, and it has ambitions to consolidate its position in the South West and to move into the “Northern Powerhouse”. Most ambitiously, it aims to detach irreversibly the skilled working classes from allegiance to the Labour Party, something that was attempted by Thatcher in the 1980s. Its goal is the building of new political hegemonic bloc that might be termed the Osborne supremacy, after its chief strategist.

The new Conservative hegemony is not simply based on stealing Labour’s political clothes or co-opting the odd political figure, such as Andrew Adonis; it runs much deeper and has been more than a decade the making. While leading conservative thinkers have not seriously engaged with the work of Antonio Gramsci, they act as if they have done. They do this instinctively, although they also work hard at enacting political domination.

 Adaptiveness through a conservative ‘double shuffle’

A major source of the new Conservative hegemony has been its fundamental intellectual political thinking and its adaptive nature. The intellectual foundations were laid in the decades of Keysianism when free market thinkers, notably Hayak and Friedman, pioneered neo-liberal thinking that would burst onto the political scene in Reagan/Thatcher era.  Despite setbacks, following the exhaustion of the Thatcherite political project in the 1990s, it has sprung back to life again in a more malleable form. Its strengths lie not only in its roots in a neo-liberal economy and state, but in a conservative ‘double shuffle’: the combining of neo-Thatcherite economics and social and civil liberalism, represented by a highly flexible and cordial relationship between Osborne and Cameron.  

 Right intellectual and political resources

The Conservative Party has also mobilised an integrated set of highly effective political and intellectual resources that are constantly seeking new avenues of economic, technological, political and social development, able to appropriate the language of the Left and to summon and frame popular common sense. These include well-resourced Right think tanks such as Policy Exchange; campaigning attack organisations, notably, the Taxpayers Alliance; a stratum of websites (e.g. ConservativeHome) and bloggers linked to the more established rightwing press that provide easy outlets for key ideas and stories. Moreover, a modernized Conservative Parliamentary Party provides essential political leadership and is highly receptive to new ideas.

 Very Machiavellian - conservative coercion and consensus

No longer restrained by the Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives have also opted for a strategy of coercion to erode the remaining political bastions of the Left with proposed legislation against trade unions, attacks on charities with social missions, reform of the Human Rights Act, and measures to make it more difficult for trade unionists to affiliate to the Labour Party. Coupled with proposed boundary changes and English Votes for English Laws (Evel) in the House of Commons, these are aimed at crippling the organisational capacity of Labour and the wider Left.  It is these twin strategies of consensus and coercion that they anticipate will cohere and expand the Conservative political bloc – a set of economic, political and social alliances underpinned by new institutional ‘facts on the ground’ that aims to irrevocably shift the centre of political gravity.

The strengths and limits of the Conservative political bloc

In 2015 the conservative political bloc constitutes an extensive and well-organised array of ‘ramparts and earthworks’ geared to fighting successful political and ideological ‘wars of position’ and occasional “wars of manoeuvre”. This contrasts sharply with the ramshackle political and ideological trenches of Labour and the Left, which could be characterised as fragmented and in a state of serious disrepair.

The terrain of the Conservative bloc is not impregnable, however, having potential fault lines and weaknesses that might be exploited by a committed and skillful adversary. These include an ideological approach to austerity and shrinking the state that will hit their voting blocs; Europe; a social ‘holding pattern’ and dependence on the older voter that fails to tap into the dynamism of a younger and increasingly estranged generation and, crucially, vulnerability to a new economic crisis because the underlying systemic issues remain unresolved.

 Is the Left capable of building an alternative political bloc?

The answer is not straightforward.  On the one hand, Corbynism is focused on building and energizing a committed core and historically may be recognized as having saved the Labour Party from collapse after a catastrophic defeat in May. The Core may be the foundation of an effective counter bloc, but cannot represent it.  A counter-hegemony will need to be built by reaching out around new vision of a productive economy; a more democratic state that balances national leadership and local discretion (a more democratic version of the Northern Powerhouse); a new social alliance that really articulates the idea of ‘one nation’ and an ability to represent these ideas and visions in everyday, common-sense language. 

 If the Conservatives instinctively understand political hegemony Labour politicians, with one or two notable exceptions, behave as though they have little or no understanding of what is actually going on.  If they hope to win in future this has to change and a good start would be a collective sober analysis of the Conservative’s political and ideological achievements.

This is an extract from The Osborne Supremacy, a new pamphlet by Compass.

Ken Spours is a Professor at the IoE and was Convener of the Compass Education Inquiry. The final report of the Compass Education Inquiry, Big Education can be downloaded here.