For the entire 8 day duration of Operation Pillar of Defense, there was one major geopolitical player who had been largely quiet and certainly absent from the scene: the same player whose unflinching position over the Syria conflict has so far prevented any intervention in the civil war torn country: Russia. The same Russia which has a military base in the Syrian port city of Tarsus, and thus in its own eyes, a very substantial “national interest” role to play in the middle east, one that is certainly opposing that of the US and the pro-NATO forces, a tension that will surely boil to the surface now that war between Iran and Israel is always at most “hours away” depending on who is asked, and which one day will be more than just a war of words. Today, Russia decided that it had kept quiet for too long over the Gaza conflict, with Voice of Russia reporting, courtesy of Al Arabiya, that Russian warships anchored off the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea will be put on military alertness should the conflict in Gaza escalate and brought in proximity, according Russian Navy Command source on Friday.
Sure enough, there is a diplomatic reason for the escalation: evacuation preparedness. To wit: “The detachment of combat ships of the Black Sea Fleet, including the Guards missile cruiser Moskva, the patrol ship Smetliviy, large landing ships Novocherkassk and Saratov, the sea tug MB-304 and the big sea tanker Ivan Bubnov, got the order to remain in the designated area of the Eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea for a possible evacuation of Russian citizens from the area of the Gaza strip in case of escalation of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict”, the spokesperson said. He added that ship crew members will continue routine combat training, maintenance of equipment and weapons along with other military services.
A missile cruiser, which just happens to be the flag ship of the Russian Black Sea naval fleet, and whose purpose is “to destroy hostile surface ships” in order to aid evacuation? Odd…
Naturally, only very naive people would buy this “explanation”, which does nothing to mitigate the factor that Russia, too, is now implicitly involved in the Gaza conflict. How soon until China sends a few of its own warships to the region. Just in case China nationals needs evaluation too.
And if indeed evacuation is the catalyst, it may happen soon, because the tenuous cease fire between the two nations may not last long following another reflaring of hostilities between Israel and Gaza:
Hundreds of Palestinians approached the border fence Friday in several locations in southern Gaza, testing expectations Israel would no longer enforce a 300-meter-wide (300-yard-wide) no-go zone on the Palestinian side of the fence that was meant to prevent infiltrations into Israel. In the past, Israeli soldiers routinely opened fire on those who crossed into the zone.
In one incident captured by Associated Press video, several dozen Palestinians, most of them young men, approached the fence, coming close to a group of Israeli soldiers standing on the other side.
Some Palestinians briefly talked to the soldiers, while others appeared to be taunting them with chants of “God is Great” and “Mursi, Mursi,” in praise of Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi, whose mediation led to the truce.
At one point, a soldier shouted in Hebrew, “Go there, before I shoot you,” and pointed away from the fence, toward Gaza. The soldier then dropped to one knee, assuming a firing position. Eventually, a burst of automatic fire was heard, but it was not clear whether any of the casualties were from this incident.
Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra said a 20-year-old man was killed and 19 people were wounded by Israeli fire near the border.
Mansour, the Palestinian U.N. observer, said Israeli forces fatally shot Anwar Abdulhadi Qudaih in the head and injured at least 19 other Palestinian civilians in a border area east of Khan Younis.
During the incidents, Hamas security tried to defuse the situation and keep the crowds away from the fence.
Moussa Abu Marzouk, a top Hamas official at the ongoing negotiations in Cairo, told The Associated Press that the violence would have no effect on the ceasefire.
The crowds were mainly made up of young men but also included farmers hoping to once again farm lands in the buffer zone. Speaking by phone from the buffer zone, 19-year-old Ali Abu Taimah said he and his father were checking three acres of family land that have been fallow for several years.
“When we go to our land, we are telling the occupation (Israel) that we are not afraid at all,” he said.
Israel’s military said roughly 300 Palestinians approached the security fence at different points, tried to damage it and cross into Israel. Soldiers fired warning shots in the air, but after the Palestinians refused to move back, troops fired at their legs, the military said. A Palestinian infiltrated into Israel during the unrest, but was returned to Gaza, it said.
As we previously showed the Brent market priced in a ceasefire for about 10 minutes last week, before sending Brent to its weekly high, on the realization that the peace between Israel and Gaza is merely lip service until at least one more foreign political entity figures out some way to benefit from a re-escalation of hostilities. Only this time the Russians will be there too.