Israel’s Thinking May Provide Some Insight into Obama’s

Some in the Arab media are saying that Barack Obama’s silence about Israel’s assault on the Gaza strip amounts to tacit support for Israel’s actions. But the fact that Israel decided to launch this massive attack on the Gaza strip in the waning days of the Bush administration suggests that Tel Aviv, at least, thinks that the days for such an action might be limited. In this case, Israel’s self-interested calculation may provide the best gauge of what the Obama administration’s foreign policy in the region will be.

Nothing in the events leading up to the now nine day long assault on Gaza created a sense of urgency that justifies the scale and speed of the Israeli action. It is undoubtedly true that Hamas is a terrorist organization, and that it has been increasing the number of rockets it has been launching at southern Israel in recent months. However, Hamas is also democratically elected , and Israel is a country that has a long history of enduring attacks both by external entities, such as Hezbullah in southern Lebanon, and suicide bombers within its borders. The rocket attacks from Gaza were not a new phenomenon, and the casualties, though tragic, were minimal (four in total, according to the New York Times.) And the backlash from the attacks across Gaza, the West Bank and the rest of the Middle East poses a much greater threat to Israeli security than the rockets coming from Gaza. Yet the scale, duration and ferocity of the assault have left even many supporters of the Jewish state watching the unfolding events with horror. And, in the diplomatic community, no one thinks that a conflagration of violence between Israelis and Palestinians will make the Obama administration’s first few weeks in office any easier. Why then, would Israel take such drastic action during the final hours of Bush’s watch, rather than wait until after January 20th for the support of the incoming administration, and the powerful message such backing would send?

Israel is a sophisticated state actor that can be counted on to read and react to shifting political trends. When seen in light of a possible policy change in Washington, the urgency and intensity of Israel’s actions make more sense. Israel’s leaders clearly felt that it was better for the country to take action now, with Bush in office, than to wait for a matter of weeks and be able to act with backing of the most watched new U.S. administration to take office since the state of Israel was founded. Rather than being a sign of support for the Gaza offensive, Obama’s refusal to comment at all may suggest that, while he is unwilling to interfere in the White House’s ability to conduct foreign policy, he may not be supportive of Israel’s actions, and that he intends to take a different tone from the current administration tone in office. Thus, for those hoping that the U.S. might once again provide moral leadership in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there may be a silver lining to the tragic events unfolding in Gaza, as Israel’s actions may suggest that it expects, as Hamas should too, greater pressure from the U.S. for serious concessions from both sides.

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