With allies like Israel, who needs enemies?
Maybe it's time for American presidents to start putting the interests of America first
It looks like Israel's attacks in Gaza will create a lot of problems for Obama at the beginning of his presidency:
Israel’s massive three-day aerial assault on Gaza is likely to complicate President-elect Barack Obama’s hopes of aggressively pursuing Israeli- Palestinian peace negotiations, and risk inflicting greater damage to Washington’s standing in the Arab world, according to most analysts.And it appears that the Israelis intend to maintain a very prolonged assault:
Indeed, if the current campaign goes on much longer and the Israelis launch a major ground invasion of Gaza as they now appear to be preparing to do, Obama could face a major international crisis -- comparable to Israel’s failed 2006 war against Lebanon’s Hezbollah -- just as he takes office in three weeks’ time.
"With this assault, the fallout has already started to spread considerably beyond the constituency of people who are Palestinians," noted Helena Cobban, a veteran Middle East analyst, who cited popular protests in Egypt, Jordan and elsewhere in the Arab world since the Israeli campaign began Saturday on her blog, justworldnews.org. "It has already started, and we can confidently expect that the longer Israel’s assault is maintained, the higher the regional stakes will rise."
The Israeli attacks, which came a week after the expiration of an increasingly shaky six-month cease-fire, have so far reportedly killed more than 300 Palestinians, while two Israelis have died in rocket attacks launched from Gaza.
While Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak initially insisted that Israel’s war aims were designed to re-instate and strengthen the cease-fire, the former prime minister who hopes to reclaim that post as head of the Labour Party in Feb. 10 elections, appeared to broaden them in a speech to the parliament Monday in which he pledged "war to the bitter end" against Hamas -- the Islamist party that controls Gaza. Deputy Prime Minister Haim Ramon said Israel aimed to "topple Hamas."So as Obama prepares to begin dealing with the worst economic crisis in 75 years and as he tries to extricate the US from Iraq and salvage the campaign in Afghanistan, he'll have to deal with another rise in Anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world, thanks to the actions of our "ally". Thanks, guys. And thanks for quoting President-elect Obama out of context to make it appear as though he supports your overreaction:
And thanks also to President Bush, who seems determined to maximize the damage:
"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… And I would expect Israelis to do the same thing," Obama had said at the time. In his speech to the Knesset Monday, Barak significantly repeated the quotation in defending Israel’s action.
Bush also ordered the State Department to veto a United Nations resolution calling on Israel to cease its attacks. The US has vetoed 40 such resolutions since 1972, nearly all of which had passed with the near-unanimous support of UN member states.
As with the 2006 war, the administration of President George W. Bush has offered strong backing for the Israeli attack, demanding that Hamas stop firing rockets into Israel and agree to a "sustainable and durable ceasefire."
"The United States understands that Israel needs to take actions to defend itself," said White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe at Bush’s ranch in Texas, where the outgoing president is spending the Christmas holiday. Johndroe called the leadership of Hamas "nothing but thugs" during a briefing on Sunday.
Obama said during the campaign that he would make peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians a top priority, as a peace agreement would greatly enhance his ability to deal with important allies in the struggle against terrorism, including Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Turkey. It would also help Obama reduce Iranian influence in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq. But Israel seems determined to ensure that such a peace will be impossible, at least during the first year or two of Obama's administration.
So why would Israel act with such careless disregard for the interests of its most important ally? Why would they pick now of all times to resist extending a ceasefire (Israel announced before the ceasefire ended that they would only extend the ceasefire if Hamas ceded power to the Fatah party, despite defeating Fatah in the last election)? Why pick this moment to launch an all out war on Hamas, in response to rocket attacks that killed a single civilian?
It seems clear that the Israeli government chose this moment to strike because Kadima, the party in power faces an election in February, and trails the hawkish Likud party:
The seemingly most obvious reason would be Israel is attacking in response to Hamas ending the cease-fire and the drastic increase of rockets fired into Israel over the Christmas/Chanukah week. This does not wash out as Israel has sat on their hands through similar attacks during the time since Olmert became Prime Minister. Israel has suffered more casualties in a week’s period than they have this past week and done nothing. So, what makes this surge in rocket and mortar fire different causing Israel’s definitive response?Another reason for the timing may have been the recent American presidential election. Obama will take office in January, and Olmert and Livni probably didn't think they could count on him to endorse an all-out war against Hamas. By using the expiration of a 6 month ceasefire as a pretext for attacking now, the Israelis could make such a conflict a fait accompli, thus forcing their "ally" to make a terrible choice: support Israeli aggression and lose the credibility and goodwill that Obama's conciliatory approach has earned him in the Middle East, or support Hamas. It appears that this consideration was also a major factor in the decision to attack:
The coming Israeli elections are the determining factor in the timing and intensity of the campaign against Hamas in Gaza. The Israeli military has been ready and fully trained to complete the job for months but had been held back by the Olmert government. With the inability of Tzipi Livni to form a coalition government for Kadima after Olmert announced he would step down left the current ruling party in a bad political situation. Olmert, Livni, and the leadership of Kadima have seen the polls that show the Israeli public’s dissatisfaction with the lack of leadership and action against the Hamas rocket attacks. They can read the polls showing their probable loss of being the lead party to Likud and Netanyahu.
Hamas officials, working through Egyptian mediators, had urged Israel to lift the siege of Gaza as the basis for continuing an extended ceasefire. Israel, including Foreign Minister, Tsipi Livni, of the ‘centrist’ (in the Israeli context) Kadima Party, rejected the proposal. Livni, who went to Egypt but refused to seriously consider the Hamas offer, is running in a tight race for prime minister; her top opponent is the further-right Benyamin Netanyahu, of the officially hawkish Likud party, who has campaigned against Livni and the Kadima government for their alleged ‘soft’ approach to the Palestinians. With elections looming in February, no candidate can afford to appear anything but super-militaristic.In short, the new American president is being handcuffed by Israel's attacks, and at the worst possible time. Internal Israeli politics, rather than American initiatives, are determining how successful Obama's Middle Eastern policy can be. And because Israel has found that a constant state of conflict has the effect of binding America's fate to Israel's, they're doing what they can to ensure that the war continues.
Further, it is certain that the Israeli government was eager to move militarily while Bush was still in office. The Washington Post quoted a Bush administration official saying that Israel struck in Gaza, ‘because they want it to be over before the next administration comes in. They can’t predict how the next administration will handle it. And this is not the way they want to start with the new administration.’
The escalation in Gaza will make it virtually impossible for any serious Israeli-Palestinian negotiations aimed at ending the occupation. It remains uncertain whether sponsorship of an immediate new round of bilateral negotiations was on Barack Obama’s initial post-inauguration agenda anyway. But the current crisis means that any negotiations, whether ostensibly Israeli-Palestinian alone or officially involving the US-controlled so-called ‘Quartet’, will be able to go beyond a return to the pre-airstrike crisis period.
That earlier political crisis, still far from solved, was characterized by expanding settlements, the apartheid Wall and checkpoints crippling movement, commerce and ordinary life across the West Bank, and a virtually impenetrable siege of Gaza that even before the current military assault, had created a humanitarian catastrophe.
There may have been a previous case in which a nation has been so badly abused by less powerful "ally", but I can't think of one.
I can't help noting that Mahmoud Abbas, who took over leadership of the Fatah party from Yasser Arafat, is trying to use the attacks to gain political advantage and curry favor with the West, but I think that he'll only wind up marginalizing himself.
(cross posted at appletree)