Israeli strikes in Gaza risk political win for Hamas
The Islamist militants in Gaza may emerge as a symbol of defiance, much as Hezbollah did in its 2006 war with Israel.
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The conflict led to the resignations of the Israeli defense minister and the army chief of staff and hastened the collapse of Olmert's political career. This time around, however, Olmert and his cabinet colleagues have been careful not to make promises they cannot keep.Skip to next paragraph
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"One thing they have learned from Lebanon is to keep their mouths shut. I have never seen the Israelis so low-key and not bragging from the outset," says Timur Goksel, a university lecturer in Beirut who served from 1979 to 2003 with the United Nations peacekeeping force in south Lebanon.
In an address Monday, Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah called the Gaza conflict a "Palestinian copy" of the war that Hezbollah fought against Israel.
Sheikh Nasrallah also called on Egyptians to pressure their government to aid Hamas by opening up the Rafah border crossing with Gaza to allow humanitarian aid and goods to flow in, breaking the Israeli blockade of the coastal enclave.
Hamas, which has also called for the crossing to be opened, has increased pressure on Arab leaders by calling on them to break off ties with Israel.
In another echo of the Israel-Hezbollah conflict, the fighting in Gaza is exacerbating rivalries within the Arab world. There's increasing criticism of pro-Western governments like Egypt for allegedly being complicit in the Israeli attacks. Jordan and Saudi Arabia are also coming under fire.
Moved by the graphic pictures of carnage on Arab satellite television, grass-roots groups in Arab countries are sympathizing with Hamas in Gaza rather than the positions of their governments, say observers.
"Most popular movements are lambasting the Israelis, Arab leaders, and the US, and – even more than in the Lebanon war – public opinion seems to be firmly on the side of Gaza rather than Riyadh and Cairo," wrote Marc Lynch, a professor of political science at George Washington.
In Saudi Arabia on Monday, police fired rubber bullets to break up a pro-Palestinian protest, injuring up to eight people, but a government official denied the report. Residents said between 200 and 300 people took part in the march in Saudi Arabia's oil-producing Eastern Province. In Athens Monday, about 300 Greek and Arab protesters waving Palestinian flags gathered outside the Israeli Embassy north of the city center for one of several rallies or demonstrations planned during the evening.