Middle East in crisis
As if enough blood were not already being spilled in Syria, the outbreak of renewed violence in the Middle East has already cost hundreds of lives, including children, with both Hamas in the Gaza Strip and the Israeli government vowing not to step back.
While one may be inclined to compare this violence with that of 2008-2009 when atrocities resulted in the deaths of more than 1,300 people, this would be wrong. Today's Hamas is completely different from the Hamas of 2008 because its position has been greatly strengthened as a consequence of the Arab Spring. They have gained many new friends who are sympathetic to their cause and willing to give Hamas platforms to speak from and more.

The emir of Qatar, for example, apparently offered Gaza some $400 million in aid during a recent visit.

In light of this, Israel needs to think doubly carefully about the actions it is taking or contemplating. While Israel may be stronger militarily, there is no doubt that it is now much weaker politically and could end up further weakened. Today, Israel is more isolated than ever. Israel's old friend, former Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak, has gone. Beyond Egypt, Israel is also anxious about the situation in Syria, with the violence now spilling over to Israel via the Golan Heights, and meanwhile, Israel's enemy, the Mullah regime in Iran, continues to play a meddling role, welcoming the deterioration in Israeli-Egyptian ties. To top it all off, there is Turkey, once Israel's ally in the region, now an enemy with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, never one to mince words, branding Israel a "terrorist state" and accusing its leadership of carrying out "ethnic cleansing."

It is well known that Egypt's new leadership is sympathetic to Hamas. This was visible during the recent visit of Prime Minister Hisham Qandil to Gaza, and the declaration of President Mohamed Morsi, who said that Gaza is not alone, "Egypt today is not the Egypt of yesterday, and Arabs today are not the Arabs of yesterday," and has allowed Hamas' leader, Khaled Mashaal to hold live news conferences in Cairo. How this plays into international efforts to bring about a cease-fire remains to be seen. The international community had hoped Morsi could use his close ties with Hamas to pressure them to cease their attacks on Israel. Israel's leadership has made clear that it won't stop until Hamas does and will probably repeat this message during a meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today. President Morsi is aware of what is at stake, however, though he also wants to demonstrate that Egypt has reclaimed its position as a regional leader, and he certainly does not want to find himself in any way accused of not doing enough to end the violence. Cairo has been transformed into something of a hub for diplomatic discussions, and an Egyptian cease-fire proposal appears to be emerging from indirect negotiations.

There is a lot at stake. So far, the Israel-Egypt 1979 peace treaty remains intact, but a bloody incursion into Gaza could jeopardize this. Clearly a decimation of this regional relationship, which has been a cornerstone of the US Middle East strategy for years, would have massive regional implications. While Israel has declared that it wants to bring down Hamas, doing this with hard power methods is not realistic. This would almost certainly require sending in ground forces to reoccupy, at least temporarily, the Gaza Strip. The cost in lives would be horrendous and Israel would be condemned around the globe. Until now, Israel's leadership has not been ready to take this step. Yet Israel is an unpredictable nation with a complicated system of politics and is heading into an election. Therefore, nothing can be ruled out, and strong diplomacy from the West must continue.

Even if a cease-fire is agreed to, there seems to be little chance of getting the peace process back on track. It has been frozen since 2010, when it broke down as a consequence of Jewish settlements. Moreover, the fact that Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) President Mahmoud Abbas wants a vote in the UN General Assembly this month on Palestine becoming an "observer state" rather than just an "entity" is also set to increase tensions with Israel and further hinder a resumption of peace talks.

(Cihan/Today's Zaman) CİHAN
Last Modified: 2012-11-22 12:00:01
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