Responsibility in Question: Probing the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital Missile Attack in the Gaza War

On the fateful evening of Tuesday, October 17, Al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza became the grim epicenter of a devastating rocket attack, leaving nearly 500 casualties in its wake. In the grim tableau of the ongoing Gaza war, where innocent lives have tragically been sacrificed, it was unimaginable that a sanctuary like a hospital would fall victim to a rocket assault, claiming the lives of doctors, nurses, and patients alike.

Israel, the prime suspect in this horrific incident, vehemently denied any involvement, instead pointing the finger at the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement. However, this claim was rebutted by Hamas. The United States and its allies sided with Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, attributing the attack to Islamic Jihad. Meanwhile, regional governments held the Israeli army responsible, underscoring the imperative of safeguarding civilian lives. China and Russia expressed regret without directly blaming Israel or Palestinian groups, urging all parties to prioritize the safety of civilians. The United Nations, too, condemned the hospital attack, mandating a commission to investigate the atrocity.

Yet, the question of responsibility for this heinous act remains shrouded in uncertainty. Israel maintains its innocence, while Palestinian groups vehemently defend themselves. Addressing Israel’s involvement in this event proves challenging, if not impossible. Furthermore, accusing the Islamic Jihad of culpability presents its difficulties. If indeed a rocket launched by Islamic Jihad forces struck the hospital, the claim is that it happened by mistake, a point even acknowledged by Israeli authorities.

Islamic Jihad has put forth three reasons in its defense. Firstly, it asserts the lack of a missile with such destructive power. Secondly, it points out that Israel’s history includes previous attacks on hospitals. Lastly, it contends that Israel, enjoying a superior position in the war, seeks revenge, leading to retaliatory operations causing extensive losses and casualties among Gaza’s residents. While these reasons have not entirely ruled out Islamic Jihad’s involvement, they remain open to scrutiny.

As for Israel, despite Tel Aviv’s repeated denials and the support from Western governments for its narrative, convincing the Islamic world, particularly Arab countries, of its non-involvement has proven elusive. Many argue that there are numerous compelling reasons to implicate Israel, rendering further investigation unnecessary. Conversely, establishing irrefutable evidence to exonerate Israel demands a higher threshold of proof, one that is difficult to attain. This incident, laden with political complexities, raises pertinent questions, yet this article refrains from delving into the technical factors and signs, focusing solely on its multifaceted political dimensions.

The question arises: Did the Israeli army target Al-Ahli Hospital with a missile attack?

If we entertain the possibility that the Israeli army did not attack Al-Ahli Hospital, several points could support this hypothesis:

1– Netanyahu’s government’s denial of involvement can be viewed as a signal that it may not have been responsible for this incident. Before the hospital attack, over 3,000 civilians had already lost their lives in Gaza, with 2,000 of them being women and children. The casualties from the hospital attack numbered less than 500. Reports circulating in some media outlets indicated that by the 22nd day of the Gaza war, the total casualties in the region had exceeded 8,000, predominantly comprising civilians. If hospital deaths are subtracted from this figure, the toll stands at 7,500.

2– Netanyahu’s government not only refrains from denying the killing of 7,500 civilians in revenge bombings but openly acknowledges it. In this context, their selective denial of involvement in the deaths of less than 500 people seems inconsistent. Even if Israel were to confess, it is unlikely that any significant consequences would follow, except perhaps from the US. For instance, Gilad Kinan, the head of Israeli Air Force operations, claimed that more than 100 fighter planes participated in the night bombing of Gaza on October 27, to destroy everything associated with Hamas. These statements indicate an imminent destruction of Gaza rather than a pursuit of a ceasefire. Such statements, if not more appalling than the hospital attack, are certainly no less so.

Netanyahu’s government may be infuriated, but perhaps not to the extent of deliberately targeting the hospital with a missile attack, risking international condemnation and jeopardizing its moral standing as well as that of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Despite Israel’s denial, it faced accusations from numerous countries of violating the ethics of war. US President Joe Biden, after visiting Israel and meeting with its prime minister, attributed the attack to Islamic Jihad, stating, “According to what I have seen, it was done by them, not by you [Israel].”

However, Biden urged Netanyahu to exercise restraint, advising against an early ground attack due to the potential consequences of the incident. Failing this, the Israeli army would find it challenging to remain outside Gaza until Hamas is in a better position to defend itself.

Additionally, the French authorities have adopted a more assertive stance against Israel recently. President Emmanuel Macron deemed the continuation of the Gaza blockade and the emphasis on a ground attack unjustifiable. Interestingly, this statement was made during Macron’s visit to Netanyahu, where he expressed his support.

If we assume that Islamic Jihad was behind the hospital attack, it could have been a deliberate attempt to tarnish Israel’s reputation as a democratic nation in the Middle East. Regardless of whether the rocket firing was intentional or accidental, it has played into Hamas’s favor. Politics, as demonstrated, can be ruthlessly strategic. This incident, intentional or not, likely aimed to subject Israel to international pressure, dissuading further bombardment and delaying a ground attack on Gaza. Criticizing Netanyahu’s government, altering the stance of some Western countries, and postponing the ground attack appear to be the orchestrated consequences directed at Israel.

3– Regarding the reactions from Islamic countries, specifically the Arab nations, their response seems to raise intriguing points about the potential involvement of Palestinian forces in the hospital attack, possibly more than Israel. While Arab countries did attribute the incident to Israel, their reaction appeared relatively tolerant rather than vehemently condemning. The Islamic Republic of Iran took a clear stance, leaving no room for ambiguity. Turkey, a significant regional power supporting Hamas, expressed dissatisfaction verbally, labeling the group a “liberation” movement. However, it refrained from taking more decisive actions. Jordan and Egypt, whose officials were scheduled to meet with Joe Biden in Amman, withdrew from the meeting, as did Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the Palestinian Authority. Abbas is anticipated to mobilize Palestinians in the West Bank to defend Gaza residents against Israel. Saudi Arabia, often seen as a beacon of hope for Muslims worldwide, settled for verbal condemnation. Qatar, an ally of Hamas, cautiously distanced itself from the incident, avoiding actions that might displease the United States.

Crucially, the silence of public opinion in the Arab world is noteworthy. There were no significant rallies in support of Palestinians in any Arab country, while Western countries supporting Israel saw enthusiastic pro-Palestinian gatherings. This lack of emotional response from Arab countries regarding the killing of civilians in the hospital raises the possibility that there might not be clear and indisputable evidence implicating Israel in the attack. Otherwise, certain Arab governments might have been more agitated, possibly even severing diplomatic ties with Israel. What these governments have demanded is a ceasefire, leading to a resolution by the United Nations General Assembly. However, when Israel disregards resolutions from the United Nations General Assembly, to which the United States is also a signatory, it underscores the situation’s complexity.

In the grim backdrop of the Gaza war, where civilians bear the brunt of the conflict, the identification of the perpetrator behind the Al-Ahli Hospital attack, resulting in nearly 500 deaths, remains a critical issue. Amid the power struggles between global and regional forces, the fate of the investigation hangs in the balance. The United Nations has initiated its inquiry, but the effectiveness of its efforts might be hindered by the fact that its personnel have become victims of the Gaza war, adding to the challenges faced in this complex scenario.

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