'Cast Lead not limited by end Bush term'

Israeli officials say end of administration not deadline for military campaign in Gaza.

Bush 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Bush 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Israeli officials said Thursday that they didn't see the end of the Bush administration's time in office as a deadline for the military campaign in Gaza. There has been speculation that Israel would seek to wrap up its offensive against Hamas before US President-elect Barack Obama takes office on January 20, and brings with him new advisers and potentially new policy positions. "There's nothing that we have in the books that it's from this date to this date," said one official of the timetable, adding that Hamas rocket fire had more to do with when the operation concluded than American politics. He also argued that greater time for the military to operate could lead to a cleaner operation with fewer civilian casualties. Israel is resisting a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire even as it is working with the Americans and Egyptians over a possible agreement that would halt the rocket fire and end smuggling from Egypt into Gaza as well as open some of the borders into the coastal strip. Israeli officials indicated that they were willing to consider border openings, a key component of America's cease-fire outline, so long as the other security conditions were adhered to. Various formulas and provisions for such an agreement are being debated, though Israel doesn't look favorably on the proposal of an international observer force, though some configuration of stepped US assistance to Egypt on tunnel smuggling could be considered. A new Pew Research Center poll on the ongoing conflict found Thursday that a slightly greater percentage of Americans think the media have not been critical enough of Hamas than say the same about coverage of Israel (30% to 25%). In comparison, fewer think the press has been overly critical of Israel (16%) or overly critical of Hamas (8%). In addition, more Democrats (28%) than Republicans (15%) say that the media have not been critical enough in how they have covered Israel's actions, while Republicans are more likely than Democrats to see the coverage as too critical of Israel (21% versus 12%). The Gaza conflict received more media coverage in America than any other story this past week, with even Obama transition stories largely focusing on the incoming president's reticence on the issue. While he and his transition team are saying little about the conflagration or the Middle East team that will implement his regional policy there, reports are circulating about who some of the key players are likely to be. Dennis Ross, the Middle East envoy under the Clinton administration, is expected to serve as the key figure dealing with Iran. He is likely to be considered an ambassador-at-large rather than an envoy, as the US has no relations with the Islamic Republic, in a role that would be larger than his previous position stewarding the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. William Burns, the current number three in the State Department, is also expected to keep his position as the head of political affairs. His portfolio within the agency includes Iran policy, as he was the US representative sent to a meeting between EU officials and Iranians to do with the latter's nuclear program last summer. The New York Times reported that it was unusual for someone to stay in that position across administrations, but State Department staff were pleased that Burns, a well-regarded career diplomat, was slated to stay on. Though Hillary Clinton has begun to work out these and other staffing arrangements, she still faces Senate confirmation, with her hearing set for Tuesday. Susan Rice, Obama's appointee for US ambassador to the UN, will be questioned next Thursday. Already, Congress is at work weighing on the current conflict, with the US Senate passing a resolution by unanimous consent strongly backing Israel on Thursday, declaring that Israel had the right to defend itself from attacks from Gaza and strongly supporting Israel in its battle with Hamas. A similar resolution is due to come before the US House of Representatives shortly.