Analysis: The Obama factor in the Gaza equation

How long could Gaza op last? One date that jumps out is Jan. 20.

obama 63 (photo credit: )
obama 63
(photo credit: )
When looking at the calendar and trying to figure out how long Operation Cast Lead could conceivably continue, one date that jumps out is January 20. That's the day Barack Obama will be inaugurated as US president, and both American and Israeli officials have said it is clear that Jerusalem and Washington would like to have the situation in Gaza well under control by then. Few believe that the fighting will continue until that date, with a number of security and diplomatic officials saying the IDF will likely wind down operations by the end of the week. By then, its goal of dealing Hamas heavy blows to both its physical power and its morale will have been realized, while the international community will be pressing even more intensely for an end to fighting. Signs of the international community's involvement can already be seen in the UN Security Council discussion that began in New York at midnight Tuesday Israeli time. More important, however, is an agreement that the US, Egypt and France are working on that would tackle head-on the arms smuggling into the Gaza Strip. And then, of course, there is the Obama factor. There has been a great deal of speculation in recent days - especially in light of US President George W. Bush's rock-solid support for Israel during the operation - that Israel timed the operation to take place in the waning days of Bush's tenure, fearing that Obama would be less supportive. That argument ignores the fact that it was Hamas that ended the cease-fire on December 19 and began pouring rockets down on Israel. Israel obviously could not tolerate a continuation of that situation until Obama was securely ensconced in the White House. This argument also presupposes that Obama's position on this issue would be substantially different than the current administration's, an assumption not backed by any real evidence. Obama, were he already president, might have vocalized the US position on the Gaza crisis differently then Bush. But it is hard to believe - considering the president-elect's own comments in the past, the bipartisan pro-Israel sentiment in Congress, and the national security team that he has assembled - that he would have charted a dramatically different course. It is instructive to remember what Obama said in the summer during his visit to Sderot: "If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I'm going to do everything in my power to stop that. I would expect Israelis to do the same thing." This doesn't mean, however, that Israel has any interest in dumping the Gaza hot potato squarely in Obama's lap the day he enters office. Rather, Jerusalem would prefer that a resolution of the conflict would already be in the works, so Obama could begin dealing not with the military operation in Gaza, but rather with the days after. As one official put it, using an obviously imperfect metaphor, nobody wants a new boss to walk into work on his first day and have to deal with their problems. Rather, Israel would like to have what has been described as the "Gaza mess" cleaned up by then, so Jerusalem could start off with the new administration with a clean slate and without an immediate crisis on its hands. The Bush administration also has an interest in ending the crisis before the Obama team assumes power. From a US point of view, it would be preferable that any moves Washington takes that might cause friction with its Arab allies be done by the Bush administration, so that Obama, too, starts off his relations with the rest of the world with a clean slate.