Reality Check: Last thing we need is a 2nd round in Gaza

Full-throttled attack on Strip would be equivalent of pouring gasoline on already inflamed Arab world. It would only serve to aid Islamic extremists.

Explosion in Gaza City (photo credit: Reuters)
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.
When 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 isolation.
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 return.
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 East.
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.
How he 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.