The new conflict in the Gaza Strip has caught the world by surprise, just like the last Gaza war in 2008 and the Lebanon campaign of 2006.
Pictured: A Palestinian boy pushes his bicycle through the rubble in an area targeted by an Israeli air strike in Gaza City Photo: AFP/Getty Images
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And so it begins again. Seven times since the foundation of the state of Israel 64 years ago the country has found itself at war, sometimes on a front of its own choosing, sometimes in a setting imposed by its enemies. The new conflagration in the Gaza Strip may go down in history as war number eight. Once again, the condensation trails of jet fighters are streaking across a perfectly blue Mediterranean sky, while explosions echo over the white tower blocks of Gaza City and the small, neat houses of southern Israel.
Another pattern is familiar: this conflict has caught the world by surprise, just as the outbreak of the last Gaza war in 2008 and the Lebanon campaign of 2006 were both unexpected events, at least for outsiders.
So why is this happening now? And what dilemmas will confront Israel and Hamas, the radical Islamist movement, as they wage the latest round of their struggle? Like circling scorpions, these two foes watch each other obsessively. Every move they make sends a signal - and both sides have tacitly established a set of rules. Israel interpreted the latest decisions by Hamas as breaking the implicit code and sending a clear message of escalation.
Two events in particular are known to have influenced Israel's decision to launch its offensive. Last week, it discovered an ambitious new tunnel starting in Gaza. In itself, this was nothing unusual: a web of tunnels fanning out beneath the border with Egypt has supplied the Palestinian enclave ever since an Israeli blockade throttled the inflow of almost everything except humanitarian essentials. But this partially complete artery did not point towards Egypt: it was burrowing under Gaza's other frontier, beneath Israel itself.
SOURCE: David Blair