What does Israel hope to achieve by striking Gaza?

Israel says the goal is not to remove Hamas but to reassert Israel’s “deterrence” capability.

What just happened in Gaza? It depends which version you want. The Israeli one, rapidly disseminated through media, was that it had “elminated” Hamas’s military chief, Ahmed Jabari and attacked Hamas weapons infrastructure to stop the rain of rockets firing into southern Israel. The Islamist group Hamas has ruled the Gaza strip since 2006, the same number of years that the area has been under a crippling siege. The rapid Israeli dissemination, by the way, included army tweets of a video clip showing the moment a rocket dropped on Jabari’s car and this message: “We recommend that no Hamas operatives, whether low-level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead.”

This “targeted assassination”, which killed at least eight others, including two children, and the subsequent Israeli bombardment broke a shaky truce that Egypt had just mediated. In the past weeks, Israel has killed civilians in Gaza, including three children, and wounded dozens more, while Israeli soldiers and civilians have been wounded in attacks from Gaza. Israel holds Hamas responsible for the attacks, even though most of it comes from other fighter groups which Hamas is struggling to control. Now, the Islamist movement has said that Israel has “opened the gates of hell” and is retaliating with a blitz of rockets – three Israeli civilians are reported dead, while residents in the south have been urged to stay indoors. This could get bigger and more deadly.

The parallels with Israel’s deadly assault on Gaza in late 2008 are clear. Then, around 1,400 Gazans, mostly civilians, were killed in a bloody, 22-day offensive that Israel launched just after Obama was sworn-in as president and just before an Israeli election. Yesterday, Zehava Galon, who chairs Israel’s left-wing Meretz party, described the Israeli government as: “A team of pyromaniacs that want to cause war on the eve of elections.” The assessment is that prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his defence minister Ehud Barak are showing some of the forceful leadership that Israelis seem to love at the ballot box. War, or course, removes other issues – such as rising social discontent – from the campaign agenda for elections taking place in late January 2013. Now Israeli politicians of all the main parties are backing Netanyahu’s strikes on Gaza – to do otherwise, when the war drums are beating, would be tantamount to treason and an electoral turn-off. When Israeli army radio reported the Meretz quote about pyromaniacs, the presenters added that it was hard to believe Israeli Jews were saying such things.

So once again Gazans are trapped in a sealed strip and terrorised by heavy bombardment – from airstrikes and gunships, while Israel has said that ground troops are on stand-by, too. Thirteen Palestinians are reported dead.

But the assault carries more risk for Israel this time, given the dramatic changes in the Middle East. Israel no longer has the tacit support of a compliant president Mubarak in Egypt, nor does it have Turkey as ally. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is like a mothership for Hamas; it has said that Egypt: “will not allow the Palestinians to be subjected to Israeli aggression, as in the past”. Egypt has recalled its ambassador to Israel, while the Israeli envoy in Cairo was also told to pack his bags.

Israel says the goal this time is not to remove Hamas (as was the objective in 2008) but to reassert Israel’s “deterrence” capability – or in other, more stomach-turning words, to strike until it is deemed that the lesson has been learned.

You can find Rachel on Twitter as @RachShabi

A plume of smoke rises over Gaza during an Israeli air strike, as seen from Sderot. Photograph: Getty Images
Boris Johnson. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Statistics authority delivers polite but firm smackdown to Boris Johnson over £350m EU figure

Claiming we will get back £350m a week is a "clear misuse of official statistics", says Sir David Norgrove.

Boris Johnson has been accused of a "clear misuse of official statistics" by the head of the UK Statistics Authority, Sir David Norgrove.

On Friday, the Foreign Secretary laid out his vision for Brexit in a 4,000 word Telegraph article. The intervention was widely interpreted as an advertisement of his interest in replacing Theresa May, and was condemned by Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson for coming on the day of a terror attack on the London Tube.

Johnson wrote:  "Once we have settled our accounts, we will take back control of roughly £350 million per week. It would be a fine thing, as many of us have pointed out, if a lot of that money went on the NHS.”

"I am surprised and disappointed that you have chosen to repeat the figure of £350 million per week, in connection with the amount that might be available for extra public spending when we leave the European Union," wrote Sir David Norgrove. "This confuses gross and net contributions. It also assumes that payments currently made to the UK by the EU, including for example for the support of agriculture and scientific research, will not be paid by the UK government when we leave. It is a clear misuse of official statistics."

During the referendum campaign last year, the previous head of the statistics authority, Andrew Dilnot, made the same criticisms of the £350m figure. It was a key part of the Leave campaign, making the case that quitting the EU would leave Britain with more money to spend on the Health Service. However, fact-checking websites pointed out that it used our total contribution, ignoring the rebate we receive. It also assumed that the UK would make no budget contributions to the EU once we were no longer members. This is extremely unlikely, as Theresa May has already signalled her intention to remain part of several pan-European schemes, and maintain close security links. 

The polite, but brutal, letter from Sir David Norgrove is a rare direct criticism of a senior politician by the non-partisan Statistics Authority. It signals quite how irritating statisticians find the continued misuse of the £350m figure. Johnson's intervention - which has already attracted negative comments from several Tory MPs - now looks even more misguided.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.