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Hawks in Israel and the US want revenge

The nature and scale of the horror emerging from the Negev desert has hardened feelings among even the most ardent pacifists in Israel.

The mass grave discovered on the site of the Re’im trance festival is full of tie-dye shirts and string bracelets, as if this was a Srebrenica in Ibiza.

Some of the dead would have been among the few dissenting voices as Israel goes to war again. Anti-occupation activists are mourning losses of their own.

But the prevailing public expectation now is for revenge on a scale commensurate with the sense of loss, a clamour likely to intensify as more grotesque revelations emerge, supplemented by hawkish supporters abroad.

Israel’s wounded, extremist government could be pushed towards a dangerous response to satisfy those demands that expands the conflict into the wider region.

There is little scope for satisfaction in pummelling the ruins of Gaza again. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was going through the motions when he promised that the “enemy would pay a price like they have never known”. All Gaza has known is misery over 16 years in a walled-off hell where cycles of trauma and despair leave much of the population – average age 18 – choosing between fleeing their homes and violent death.

Even as Israeli commanders promise more brutality – “No power, no food… we are fighting human animals,” said defence minister Yoav Gallant – there is vanishingly little that they can inflict on Hamas and Gaza that they have not already been doing for years. The de facto government of the strip remains in power, and this time it has 100 hostages to negotiate over and – in its own terms – a spectacular victory to boast of.

Amid parallels to Pearl Harbour and 9/11, Israel’s supporters – particularly in the US – see an opportunity to escalate and strike at an old foe. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, could hardly present a more appealing target. “The cancer of the usurper Zionist regime will be eradicated,” he posted on social media with a video of young partygoers fleeing Hamas gunmen.

Tehran is a patron of Hamas – one of several – that supplies weapons and funds to its junior partner.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke for many in demanding accountability. “The entire world knows which sponsors of terrorism could have endorsed and enabled [the attack],” he said – no doubt thinking of the Iranian drones that have terrorised Ukrainian cities.

The neocon wing of the Republican party is aiming to seize the opportunity presented. “This is one of history’s best cases for regime change,” said John Bolton, former national security advisor to the Trump administration and a lifelong campaigner for war with Iran. The hawk-friendly Wall Street Journal delivered a thinly sourced “expose” alleging that Tehran helped to plot the Hamas operation, an incendiary charge that would invite retaliation if proven.

Momentum is building and it barely needs a spark, with pre-existing flashpoints between the West and Iran, from Ukraine to Tehran’s nuclear ambitions to piracy in the Persian Gulf and proxy wars in Iraq and Syria. Netanyahu has made the defanging of Iran his life’s work and Israel has fought a years-long covert campaign of sabotage against Iran’s nuclear sites and militias in Syria.

But as the war drums grow louder, both the US and Israel’s military leadership have indicated an awareness of the stakes. There is no evidence of Iranian involvement in the Hamas operation, an IDF spokesperson said. The White House echoed that message.

Military action against Iran risks sparking a second major international war. Tehran boasts the region’s largest collection of ballistic missiles, has advanced to the nuclear threshold, and can mobilise proxies in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and the Palestinian territories. The regime can also count on some degree of support from patrons in Moscow and partners in Beijing.

As grieving families mourn their dead in Gaza and Israel, and calls for revenge intensify, there is a danger of unleashing death and destruction on a far greater scale.

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