Explosion in Gaza City.
(photo credit: Reuters)
Let’s say Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu decides to unleash Operation Cast
Lead 2 following the recent wave of rocket attacks from Gaza.
writing his autobiography some years later, what are the chances of him writing:
“When Operation Cast Lead ended, six prominent leaders of European countries
came for a formal visit to Jerusalem: the French president, the German
chancellor, the prime ministers of Britain, Italy and Spain and the president of
the European Union. All of them defended the action and justified our painful
battle against Hamas terrorism. It turns out that...the world is not
automatically against us, and we must not develop a mentality of solitude and
alienation. When the cause is just and right, our colleagues around the world
will stand by us.”
Agreed, it’s hard to see Netanyahu writing such a
text, and not just because his whole worldview is based on the belief that the
world is indeed against us, or the fact that most of the above-mentioned leaders
can barely stomach a telephone conversation with him these days, never mind the
prospect of a congratulatory visit.
But these are the words that former
prime minister Ehud Olmert wrote in his autobiography, summing up the initial
international reaction to Operation Cast Lead. With credit in the international
diplomatic bank due to his honest attempts to reach a final-status agreement
with the Palestinians, Olmert was able to draw on the international community’s
support (and that of the Palestinian Authority and much of the moderate Arab
world) for his attack on Hamas.
Netanyahu has no such credit. After two
years in office with nothing to show for it except empty words, the world
rightly regards him and his right-wing government as one of the main obstacles
to securing a peace agreement.
If Netanyahu were to listen to the
dangerous rantings of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Interior Minister
Eli Yishai, and launch a second round of Operation Cast Lead, our already weak
position on the international stage would suffer a further
setback. Defense Minister Ehud Barak, in what must rank as one of the
finest opposition speeches ever given by a serving member of government,
recently warned of the “diplomatic tsunami” facing Israel due to the stagnant
peace process; an all-out attack on Gaza would simply ensure diplomatic
THE MIDDLE East today is not the same Middle East of December
2008 and President Barack Obama is no George W. Bush. With Western forces
restricting themselves to air operations against Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, the UN
is hardly going to look kindly on an IDF ground intrusion into or occupation of
the Gaza Strip.
More to the point, how would post-Mubarak Egypt react to
an IDF operation, and what would the implications be for relations with Cairo?
In the past, Egypt regarded the Hamas government in Gaza as bothersome and kept
a tight control on its border with Rafah. Today, the border is far less
tightly sealed, and the new Egyptian government is treating the Hamas leadership
as a legitimate governing entity.
For example, the Egyptians have let a
Gaza delegation headed by senior Hamas figure Mahmoud al- Zahar leave Gaza for
Khartoum, Damascus and Ankara – a visit which would have been impossible under
the Mubarak regime. During the recent Cairo uprising, a group of Hamas prisoners
in Sinai escaped to Gaza; the new Egyptian authorities have not asked for their
Jordan’s King Abdullah II, meanwhile, is looking uncomfortably at
the events happening around him; the last thing he wants is for Israel to
unleash a new wave of pro-Palestinian sentiment inside his kingdom by attacking
Gaza. And on the other side of the coin, funeral pictures from Gaza might be
just the thing Syria’s President Bashar Assad needs to distract protesters in
his country seeking his overthrow.
Indeed, a full-throttled attack on
Gaza would be the equivalent of pouring gasoline onto an already inflamed Arab
world. It would only serve to aid the Islamic extremists, and dampen the hopes
of a more moderate, pragmatic Arab leadership emerging in the Middle
Netanyahu has so far ignored the rabble-rousing rhetoric of some of
his cabinet colleagues, and avoided a hasty and disproportionate reaction to the
troubling developments of the past weeks. On the other hand, he does have to act
to restore deterrence and bring an end to the rocket attacks.
achieves this will indicate whether he really deserves his office, or whether
his years in power have only served to weaken and isolate Israel in the eyes of
the international community.
Judging by his performance over the past two
years, and that of his first premiership a decade ago, it is hard to be
optimistic.The writer is a former editor-in-chief of
The Jerusalem Post.