Israel launched Operation Cast Lead in December 2008 with the declared aim of halting rocket fire from Gaza into Israel. More than 1,400 Palestinians were killed in the three-week conflict along with 13 Israelis. The South African jurist Richard Goldstone's report into the conflict found both Israel and the Hamas movement that controls the strip guilty of war crimes, but focused more on Israel. Israel refused to co-operate with Goldstone and described his report as distorted and biased.
Britain and Australia expelled Israeli diplomats after concluding that Israel had forged British and Australian passports used by assassins to kill a Hamas commander in Dubai. Ireland is exected to do the same over the next few weeks. Israel has neither confirmed nor denied a role in the killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in his hotel room in January. Foreign affairs minister Micheál Martin said such misuse of Irish passports was "intolerable". Australia said it was not the behaviour of "a nation with whom we have had such a close, friendly and supportive relationship".
Israel announces plans, during a visit by US vice-president Joe Biden, to build 1,600 homes for Jews in an area of the West Bank annexed by Israel. The announcement triggers unusually harsh criticism from the US. Washington said it damaged its efforts to revive the Middle East peace process. US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said the project was an insult. Netanyahu said he was blindsided by planning bureaucrats and apologised to Biden. Last week's meeting with Barack Obama at the White House was called off by Netanyahu so he could return home to deal with the flotilla crisis. It was supposed to be another part of the fence-mending between the two allies.
Israel, widely assumed to have the Middle East's only nuclear arsenal, has faced renewed calls to sign a global treaty barring the spread of atomic weapons. Signatories of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) last week called for a conference in 2012 to discuss banning weapons of mass destruction throughout the Middle East. The declaration was adopted by all 189 parties to the NPT, including the US. It urged Israel to sign the NPT and put its nuclear facilities under UN safeguards.