On the twelfth day of Israel's war offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, six government leaders banded together for a conscious, focused bid to take Hamas down militarily, logistically and as a political entity.
US president George W. Bush, German chancellor Angela Merkel, King Abdullah, Jordan's Abdullah II, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert joined hands for a once-improbable association.
This fledgling bloc is still testing its wings and the robustness of the stitching holding it together. All six are aware that despite their common causes, their association could break up over differences along the way. They first tested their solidarity by attempting to forge a compromise on rival resolutions on Gaza at the UN Security Council Gaza Thursday, Jan. 8, with the US, Britain and France ranged against the Arab bloc.
But before then, their effort though fragile had established some remarkable new landmarks in modern Middle East history:
It is the first concerted, cross-national challenge ever posed to Iran's demand for primacy of the radical Islamic camp and, by definition, of the Middle East at large.
It brings together the first Western-mainstream Arab Muslim partnership embracing Israel in support of Israel's offensive against Hamas – up until Wednesday.
The still unacknowledged pact laid down clear areas of action for each of its partners:
The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have undertaken the daunting task of breaking Hamas' military back.
The other six will lay the groundwork for building a different political-military environment in and around Gaza. If this collaboration works, holds up and achieves its objectives, which DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Middle East sources outline below, it will have crafted from a blend of military prowess and diplomacy the first workable international-regional solution for an arena blighted by terror.
Conservative Arab governments quietly applaud
A winning formula that offers the failed state of Gaza and its battered neighbors a safe and normal future might help other world powers confronting Islamist terror, like India and Pakistan, to win their struggle against Taliban and the al Qaeda-led group of jihadist factions.
And if it works, President Bush may have a bright new offering for his successor to burnish his Middle East legacy.
This offering was as unimaginable two weeks ago as the alliance which fathered it. The following unforeseen events made it possible:
1. Israel decided to stake all its national resources and entire army, including reservists, for an all-out, make-or-break effort to defeat a terrorist entity governing a next-door sovereign territory. The closest analogy is Russia which went all out to win Chechnya.
2. For the first time, prominent Arab powers are quietly approving Israel's exercise of military strength against Palestinians, although they may hesitate along the way, especially if oil prices keep falling.
3. For now, the IDF has a free hand with no timeline or restrictions on weaponry, including items new to the battlefield, for the sake of breaking Hamas.
4. Egypt, the only power in touch with Hamas, has finally sealed its border with southern Gaza, closing the last breach in Israel's land and sea blockade. Hamas has no way of replenishing depleted hardware or raising reinforcements from outside. Cairo has even denied Gaza medical supplies, willing only to evacuate a small number of injured Palestinians to Egyptian hospitals.
Bush tips the wink to Obama
5. While anti-Israel rallies rage in European and Asian capitals, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt are cracking down on large-scale protests over the Gaza conflict lest they ignite their countries.
Jordan's Abdullah II went so far as to replace his intelligence chief, Muhammad Dahabi, because he was thought too friendly to Hamas. The new man is Muhammad Rath'an Raqqad, an experienced case officer from a powerful Jordanian Bedouin family, known for his antipathy for radical Islamic groups. The king clearly decided to bank on the Bedouin community's staunch loyalty to the Hashemite throne by appointing the first Bedouin officer in 20 years to the top security post in the kingdom.
Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have succeeded so far in damping down violent sentiment on their streets.
6. The Bush administration, quietly tipping the wink to Barack Obama and in conjunction with likeminded Arab governments, turned aside diplomatic pressures on Israel to halt its offensive against Hamas. An American veto was brandished to forestall a UN Security Council draft ordering Israel to accept a ceasefire and withdraw from Gaza.
7. The seventh partner of the Group of Six is rarely seen or heard. Mahmoud Abbas aka Abu Mazen, chairman of the Palestinian Authority, is biding his time, waiting for the big powers to fight his wars. Occasionally, he pops up to denounce Israel and demand Security Council action.
He has not lifted a finger to help his beleaguered Hamas brothers, who knocked his Fatah government off its Gaza throne in June 2007. And, on the quiet, he directed his US- and Jordanian-trained special security forces to keep pro-Hamas Palestinian protests off West Bank streets and suppress their terrorist plots against Israel.
Five primary goals shared by the Group of Six
- To extinguish Hamas as a military force;
- Reducing it to a marginal religious faction in Gaza and the West Bank cured of political or military aspirations;
- The restoration of Palestinian Authority rule to the Gaza Strip;
- A kick in the teeth for Iran and its sponsorship of a Palestinian extremist militia;
- An object lesson for the Shiite Hizballah and any other present or future Islamist organization with jihadist pretentions in the Arab world.