THE BLOG

The Gaza Fighting: On Strategy and Politics

While the fighting is raging in Gaza and southern and central Israel, it is also in Tehran and Beirut where there are many sleepless military and strategic planners who watch the situation with keen interest and most likely with a growing sense of concern. This is so because the fighting is having implications which are clearly stretching beyond the immediate arena of hostilities.

The first operation of the Israeli Air Force was to destroy the medium range Fajr 5 ("dawn" in Arabic) missiles which were supplied to Hamas by Iran in order to serve as a deterrence against an Israeli attack on Gaza, but much more significantly, to be used if and when Israel and/or the U.S. were to attack the Iranian nuclear program. By the IDF accounts, most of these missiles were destroyed, and very few were left, the ones that are being fired now at Tel Aviv.

If the IDF account is right, people in Tehran and Beirut can be worried. This is because the Fajrs may have been sacrificed on the wrong cause and prematurely, so far as Iran and the Hezbollah are concerned. They know that it will be next to impossible to rearm Hamas, bearing in mind the reports about the effective aerial activity over Sudan, allegedly by Israel, which seems to have cut off the main Iranian supply route to Hamas. The precision of the intelligence used to destroy the Fajr shelters and the technology used, combined with the ability to effectively act in Sudan, which is further away from Israel than Iran, may all lead to some hectic and urgent discussions in Tehran and Beirut. Hezbollah in Lebanon is making all the expected noises but is not showing, not as yet, at least, any signs of an appetite to be dragged into the fighting. In this case, they and their Iranian masters know better than to put at risk their second strike capacity at the wrong time and in the wrong arena.

So, Hamas is pretty much left to its own devices, getting verbal, medical and political support from the Muslim Brotherhood president and government of Egypt, but it is very unlikely that this show of solidarity will evolve into a full-scale military engagement. That is a very distant scenario. Yet the Egyptians do hold a card, that if used properly and prudently by them, could be effective in deterring a large Israeli ground operation, and this is the threat of complete rupture of diplomatic relations with Israel, not just the anticipated, ritualistic recall of the Ambassador from Tel Aviv. PM Netanyahu's government is clearly interested in preventing a complete rupture, something that may cause worry and consternation in the Israeli public.

Jordan to the east, is watching the events today, of all days, with trepidation, to be expected in view of the bloody riots which took place there in the last few days, and the likely possibility that the Friday prayers in the mosques will be the flashpoint for a major, out-of-control eruption, fueled by the fighting. It is worth noting that until now, the riots took place in Jordanian-populated towns, rather than among the Palestinians. All hell will break loose if they spread over to these areas.

Surely, also Mahmoud Abbas' Palestinian Authority is watching the situation with growing sense of alarm. Abbas' control of the situation until now surely adds good points to his resume. This is a point to be taken and considered seriously by PM Netanyahu, and this is where politics and strategy converge.

Netanyahu is currently riding high in Israel, not uncommon in the early days of any round of fighting. Some leftists are demonstrating, but the election campaign is at a total standstill, not bad for a sitting and challenged PM. Potential rivals of Netanyahu are suspending an announcement about joining the campaign against him, and may very well abandon their plans altogether. Again, good news for the PM. More good news comes from world leaders, primarily President Obama, President Hollande and PM Cameron, who give strong backing to the Israeli right of self defense. That coupled with Abbas' low profile enables Netanyahu's people to cry "we told you so," in response to concerns voiced, also in this blog, about Israel's international standing, particularly the sour relationships between Netanyahu and Obama.

Well, the real test of these relationships is still awaiting. It will be about Iran, and yes, also about the currently moribund peace process with the Palestinian Authority. PM Netanyahu, most likely to remain in this office also after January 22nd (Israel's elections), will still be required to show meaningful readiness to reactivate this process. If at all, Abbas' handling of the current situation will add pressure on Israel, rather than not.

And back to Gaza, a ground operation may seem inevitable, but will be fraught with unexpected risks and potential negative unintended consequences, not only with regard to Israel's foreign relations, but also in view of the election campaign. PM Netanyahu is definitely going to have a very tense weekend.

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