For both Hamas and Israel, there are reasons to escalate (+video)
For Hamas, a fear that capitulation will hurt their standing more than defiance. For Israel, it's a question of making good on public threats.
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While Israeli's political support from the US remains staunch -- the Obama administration has placed responsibility for the outbreak squarely on Hamas's shoulders and repeatedly said that Israel has the right to defend itself -- the enormous imbalance in casualty rates when Israel fights Palestinians always does damage to the country's international image, which in the long term can extract a political toll.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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And the region is a far different place than it was in 2008, when Hosni Mubarak led Egypt and could be counted on to quietly back Israel against Hamas. Now, Egypt is led by the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi. Hamas was originally an offshoot of the Brotherhood, and they are ideological kindred spirits. Today, Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Qandil briefly entered Gaza at the Rafah border, an unprecedented visit at a time of conflict. He toured Shifa Hospital in Gaza City and met with Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.
"We are all behind you, the struggling nation, the heroic that is presenting its children as heroes every day," Mr. Qandil said at the panicked hospital, filled with casualties. The LA Times reported that an emotional Qandil held up a blood-stained sleeve, saying it came from one of the wounded, as Haniyah said ""That's Palestinian blood on Egyptian hands."
This is not to say that Egypt is going to break its longstanding peace agreement with Israel or get directly involved in the conflict. But the Morsi government will be under pressure not to be as reliable a guardian of its Sinai border with Gaza as Mr. Mubarak was after this latest outbreak of hostility. That border is, after all, where much of the weapon and financial resupply of Gaza passes through. Mr. Morsi warned today that Israel should stop offensive operations now or "it won't be able to stand up to" Egypt's anger.
And there were already signs that Gaza was better armed and prepared this time around than in 2008. Then, about 600 missiles were fired at Israeli during three weeks of fighting before a truce was called. So far, 500 missiles have been fired in three days, 80 percent of the total four years ago.
To be sure, peace could still break out. Perhaps the Egyptians, or the Turks, can convince Hamas that their point has been made. Perhaps the US can convince Israel of the same.
But why the logic of peace seems obvious to outsiders, combatants run along different logic. This crisis will run for days yet.