Israel/Palestine,  Your View

Round and Round

This is a guest post by Alex Stein of

I hope that those who were so interested regarding the timing of Operation Cast Lead will be asking equally critical questions about today’s absurd attack by Hamas (or its subsidiaries). A bomb attack was launched on an Israeli patrol along the Israeli/Gaza border; one soldier was killed and three others wounded. Clashes ensued, during which at least one Palestinian (probably a civilian) was killed. In retaliation, the Israel has launched an air strike on Southern Gaza. At the time of writing, IDF tanks are back in Gaza (free hummus still on offer to anyone who can tell me of a single example in history of a group – other than Hizbollah in 2006 – succeeding in liberating territory and then attempting to goad the occupier back in). 

And guess who’s about to come to town? Senator George Mitchell, Obama’s new envoy to the region, widely heralded as the most tough and objective mediator yet to try his luck at achieving the impossible. I’ve spent the last couple of days at the World Jewish Congress (of which more later in the week), during which I’ve heard from Peres, Barak, Bibi, and Olmert. With Israel’s reputation in the world arguably at one of its lowest points yet, they still seemed to have enough diplomatic know-how to herald Mr Mitchell’s arrival, even if they would have preferred Dennis Ross or someone even more pliable. The last thing you want to do is piss off a new President when he’s barely been in the job for a week.

Which makes today’s attack even more bizarre. Even before appointing Mitchell as envoy, there were signs that Obama was prepared to soften the US stance on Hamas. The first phone-call he made to a foreign leader was to Mahmoud Abbas (edging out Mr Olmert by a few seconds). He has swiftly done an interview with al-Arabiya. He has announced that no more prisoners will be sent to Guantanamo, and has begun planning for a withdrawal from Iraq. At least on a symbolic level (and it would be hard to do more than that, so early in his administration), he has done all he can vis-a-vis the Muslim world, the only region specifically singled out in his inaugural address.

The only positive spin to be put on the stupidity is that it might be a sign of deepening division within Hamas. There have already been suggestions that the primary responsibility for the failed Hamas brinkmanship at the turn of the year lies with Khaled Meshal and the leadership in Damascus. Other reports suggest that Gazan operatives have even been ignoring orders from the exiled wing of the party, as they know what the consequences will actually be for the people of Gaza. Earlier this week, there were signs that Israel and the Hamas were warily edging towards a longish-term ceasefire, something the latter desperately needs. Given all this, perhaps today’s attack actually represents the first shot in a Hamas civil war. If not, then it should certainly give pause for thought to those who think Hamas may yet be moderated.

Either way, Hamas are once again shown to be the aggressor. A relatively weak and stupid aggressor, to be sure, but an aggressor nonetheless. I await the howls of protest at this recklessness with baited breath.