Saturday, January 10, 2009

Big implications for latest battle in Gaza

By Steven Lee Myers
Published: January 4, 2009
International Herald Tribune

Israel's campaign in Gaza against Hamas may succeed, experts here and in Israel say, but it could also backfire. Either way, the political consequences could reverberate throughout the Middle East, all the way to Iran, and help determine the ability of President-elect Barack Obama to pursue his stated goals of calming the Middle East through diplomacy.
While Israeli leadership was not stating wider goals, there was clearly hope in the country, as tanks and troops massed late last week, that the assault would do more than just stop the rocket fire with which Hamas had broken a cease-fire last month. The larger hope was that subduing Hamas would delegitimize the group's leadership in the eyes of the Palestinian people and eliminate its power to prevent a two-state solution.
Already last week, it was exposing political, ethnic and sectarian divisions in the region that Israel, like the United States, had long sought to exploit.
In a highly optimistic scenario for Israel and the United States, a clear victory for Israel would make it easier for Egypt, Jordan and countries farther afield to declare common cause against Islamic militancy and its main sponsor in the region, Iran.
Then, as Martin Indyk, a former American ambassador to Israel, argued, an international peacekeeping force made up of Turkish and Arab troops could clear the way for a restoration of political control in Gaza by President Mahmoud Abbas, who heads the Fatah movement and is titular president of all Palestinians, but in reality is the weak leader of only the West Bank.
Iran is the one country - aside from Israel - with the most at stake in the outcome. It sponsors Hamas and Hezbollah not only to torment Israel but also to spread its influence in the Arab world. A convincing defeat of Hamas would undercut that strategy, and presumably Iran's ability to resist Western pressure in any broad bargaining - for example, over its support for terrorist groups and even its nuclear program. "It's an ambitious scenario," said Indyk, with a sobering caveat, "that would require things to get significantly worse before they could get better."
But Israel's attacks also could fail outright, and history suggests that as the more likely scenario, Middle East experts across the political spectrum said.
The strikes - and the Arab anger over scenes of death and destruction - have highlighted divisions in the Middle East that can prevent Arab nations from working with Israel.
Full article is here

No comments: