For Israel, costs and benefits of striking Gaza
Israel assassinated a senior Hamas militant, Ahmed Jabari, today. How much further will the Gaza strikes go?
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Then, as now, the precipitating issue was the firing of rockets from Gaza. And then, as now, there are potential costs for Israel in an aggressive response to the Gaza militants. Hamas has an arsenal of Fajr rockets from Iran, that have much longer ranges than the rockets typically fired from Gaza. Israel says it has been targeting launch sites for the rockets in the attacks today, but has it gotten them all? Unlikely. Will Hamas decide to unleash the weapons on Israel in retaliation? Possibly.Skip to next paragraph
Dan Murphy is a staff writer for the Monitor's international desk, focused on the Middle East. Murphy, who has reported from Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, and more than a dozen other countries, writes and edits Backchannels. The focus? War and international relations, leaning toward things Middle East.
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Impact on Israel-Egypt ties?
Egypt, now led by the Muslim Brotherhood, was already edging away from its longstanding cold peace with Israel. A major offensive in Gaza will accelerate that process, and perhaps cause the Egyptian government to rethink its cooperation with Israel in sealing up Gaza's borders. State TV in Egypt is reporting that the country has recalled its ambassador from Israel.
Cast Lead's extensive civilian casualties delivered a major blow to Israel's standing, and a repeat of 2008 will likely drain additional international sympathy for the Israeli side of the conflict with the Palestinians.
And an Israeli assault in Gaza will make it much more politically costly for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to back off his promised push for Palestine to be given the status of nonmember observer state at the United Nations. He would look like an appeaser of Israel while the true Palestinian "resistance" in Gaza was suffering under Israeli weapons. (For more on the Palestinian bid at the UN, see the Monitor's briefing today.)
Causing Mr. Abbas to harden his UN stance is clearly not what Israel wants. Reuters reported today on a proposed policy document from Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's office that suggested driving Mr. Abbas from power and "dismantling the Palestinian Authority" as a possible response to a successful UN bid.
Would Israel really do that? Well, all things are possible. But events in Gaza suggest why that's not a very attractive option for Israel, either. The government of Mr. Netanyahu may not be happy with Abbas and the Fatah party he represents, but the Palestinian government in the West Bank has largely given up armed struggle and Abbas has been committed to the creation of a Palestinian state through negotiation. Taking him out would leave his rivals in Hamas, with whom Fatah fought and lost a brief civil war in Gaza in 2007.
Hamas, of course, takes a much harder line toward Israel than Fatah, and it now has rivals of its own in Gaza like the Islamic Jihad, who are more militant still. In the 1980s, Israel viewed the rise of Hamas as a rival to Fatah with some favor. Today, Israeli military spokesmen were calling Hamas an "Iranian proxy" on social media sites. The odds of any group that replaces Fatah being more favorable for Israel look poor.
To be sure, if Israel believes it can stop or seriously diminish the threat of rockets from Gaza, perhaps by frightening surviving Hamas leaders into suppressing rocket fire, that's a benefit that would outweigh all potential costs. But Hamas, for its own prestige, will feel the need to strike back.