Netanyahu’s dilemma: Back Obama’s save Hamas policy, or fight for its downfall with Egypt and Saudis
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu entangled himself Saturday and Sunday, July 26-27, in the net he had cast to blur the effect of the unanimous decision by the security-political cabinet of Friday to turn down the ceasefire proposals proposed by US Secretary of State John Kerry and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. The two diplomats and their partners, a brace of European ministers and Qatar and Turkey, who met in Paris to concoct a peace framework for Gaza, were privately dubbed by wags in Jerusalem the “Save Hamas Squad.”
Netanyahu tried to present the flat cabinet “no” to the ceasefire as a “no, maybe.”
His purpose was to leave an opening for the US and UN to ginger up their pro-Hamas framework for ending hostilities in the Gaza Strip by incorporating elements that Israel’s security needs half way. If that was done, Israel, he indicated, would be amenable to joining lengthy ceasefire accords with Hamas, or even making unilateral halts in violence.
He explained to his close circle that he was performing these maneuvers to gain international legitimacy for Israel’s large-scale counter-terror operation against the Palestinian extremist organization in the Gaza Strip, now it its 20th day. This would be especially timely ahead of the UN Security Council session on the issue due to take place in New York Monday.
The trouble with this pretext is that the large measure of international sympathy Israel enjoyed in the early days of its Operation Defense Edge against Hamas’ rocket barrage collapsed the moment President Obama sent Kerry to the Middle East last week, for a bid to save Hamas before it was mown down by the IDF.
The Palestinian Authority was much more open and blunt than Netanyahu in its disapproval of the game that was being played out in Paris. Walid Assad, one of the spokesmen of Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas protested what he called Kerry’s “appeasement” of Qatar and Turkey at the expense of Egypt and the PA, and his failure to invite either to the meeting for discussing a ceasefire in Gaza hostilities.
Senior Palestinian officials warned against attempts to “bypass the PLO as the sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.”
In the legitimacy stakes, Netanyahu has three solid allies for crushing Hamas: Saudi King Abdullah, Egyptian President Abdel-Fatteh El-Sisi and the UAE ruler Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum. Sunday, Mahmoud Abbas attached a Palestinian voice to this group.
This regional coalition has enormous clout, derived, on the one hand, from the Israeli military and its fight against Hamas in the Gaza Strip and the Egyptian army’s containment of Hamas efforts to break out into Sinai for strategic depth; and, on the other, from the financial might of Saudi Arabia and the oil emirates and the world prestige they enjoy.
So why is the Obama administration shoving this powerful coalition out of his way and building a rival alliance to counter it?
Its primary motive is fear that if this group is allowed to make the Israeli operation in the Gaza Strip a success, it will become the springboard for its next move, a victorious assault on Iran.
This sequence of events would totally derail current US Middle East policy, which hinges on détente with Tehran, Obama’s advisers warn him, and even jeopardize his strategy for bringing the nuclear negotiations between the six world powers and Iran to a successful conclusion.
Netanyahu’s shilly-shallying between approval and rejection of Gaza ceasefires is the outcome of his dilemma: Sticking with the first solid alliance Israel has ever acquired in the region would cost him a deep rift with Washington. But going along with Kerry’s plan would cost Israel more in security against one of the most dangerous Islamist terrorist organizations on earth.
Vacillation by a war leader increases the dangers to his troops and the risk of missing its goals. A wishy-washy formula was thrown up in Jerusalem to cover this period of uncertainty: “Quiet will be met with quiet and fire will be met with fire!
This slogan was used at the start of the operation against Hamas. Its response was the contemptuous ramping up of rocket fire against Israeli population centers to 100 a day – which in turn, triggered Israel’s ground operation eight days ago.
Half measures will not go down well with the Israeli public, which, even after losing 43 servicemen in action in the Gaza Strip, is still solidly behind the operation. A poll conducted by TV Channel 10 Sunday found 87 percent of those canvassed demanding that Israel press on, and 69 percent urging the government to go al the way and overthrow Hamas rule of the Gaza Strip.
With the US, Europe, Iran, Qatar and Turkey at its back and a wavering Israeli government putting the IDF Gaza operation on stop-go, Hamas can afford to carry on shooting rockets at Israel when it chooses before, after and in the middle of its own ceasefires.
There might a slowdown for the three-day Eid al-Fitr which starts Sunday night. But not necessarily. The Palestinian extremists may use an outburst of violence during the Muslim festival to rally their coreligionists across the Muslim world for huge marches of solidarity behind them. This could present Egypt and Saudi Arabia with a predicament.
Netanyahu will meanwhile have to resolve which way to jump, one of the hardest decisions any Israeli prime minister has ever faced.
Hamas won’t give him the peace to make up his mind. It has plenty of firepower and rockets left to keep Gaza violence and attacks on Israel on the boil, while making good use of the rising toll of Palestinian deaths in the fighting to place all the estimated 1,060 deaths squarely at Israel’s door.
Sunday, July 27, 2014, the Palestinian extremists received another shot in the arm from Iran, a phone call to politburo chief Khaled Meshaal from Ali Shamkhani, Secretary of Iran’s National Security Council, with a promise to make up Hamas’ losses of weapons in the war with Israel.
Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hossen Amir Abdolahian traveled to Beirut to discuss with Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah, how they could help Hamas.