Gaza flare-up part of bin Salman’s scenario to distract world from Khashoggi case
Story Code : 761340
The Saudi crown prince has set up an “emergency task force” to counter the increasingly damaging leaks about the murder of Khashoggi coming from Turkish authorities, the Middle East Eye cited sources inside Saudi Arabia as saying in a report originally published on Tuesday night and later updated on Wednesday.
Among a range of measures and scenarios proposed by the task force was a plan to convince Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to wage a war on Gaza to divert global attention from the assassination case, the sources said.
The task force, composed of officials from the royal court, the foreign and defense ministries, and the intelligence service, advised bin Salman that a war in Gaza can distract US President Donald Trump’s attention amid Turkish leaks on Khashoggi's murder, the London-based online news outlet was told.
Earlier this week, Israeli warplanes started a fresh wave of deadly air raids against residential areas throughout the Gaza Strip. But the aggression drew an angry reaction from Palestinian resistance group Hamas, which fired an intense barrage of rockets into the southern parts of the occupied territories.
The flare-up of violence broke out when the Israeli military launched a commando raid against Gaza last weekend and killed seven Hamas commanders.
Several Palestinians were killed and over 30 others were injured in the Israeli air raids. Two Israelis also died in Ashkelon, while around 20 others sustained injuries in counterattacks from Gaza.
On Tuesday, Gaza-based resistance groups agreed to an Egypt-brokered ceasefire with Israel.
The sudden escalation of tension in Gaza seemed particularly unusual as Netanyahu had earlier changed his tone on Hamas and seemed to be willing to ease the blockade on the besieged enclave.
Speaking on Sunday before the raids, Netanyahu had said that he was "doing everything" he could "to avoid an unnecessary war" in Gaza. "I am not afraid of war if it’s necessary, but I want to avoid it if it’s not necessary,” he said.
The Israeli special forces' raids in Khan Younis also came hot on the heels of a deal between Qatar and Israel to allow funds into the blockaded strip and pay the salaries of government workers.
Also, an ongoing diplomatic crisis between Doha and Riyadh could shed light on the motives of the Israeli attacks in the wake of the reported Qatari deal. Saudi Arabia has put an economic blockade on Qatar, cutting off the country’s only land border for more than a year.
The ceasefire in Gaza, which was widely described as the Israeli “recognition of its defeat at the hands of the Palestinian resistance,” also led to the resignation of Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli minister of military affairs and the head of Yisrael Beiteinu.
Lieberman said all of the members of his party will quit Israel's ruling coalition in the 120-member parliament, and that means Netanyahu only holds a slender Knesset majority (61-59) seats to maintain the coalition.
Khashoggi was brutally killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October, in a premeditated operation which Turkish authorities believe was carried out by a hit squad whose suspected members contained several members of bin Salman's personal bodyguards.
Saudi officials have denied that the crown prince has "any knowledge whatsoever" of Khashoggi's killing. But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says it had been ordered at the "highest levels" of the Saudi government.