For every question answered after the week-long conflict over Gaza, many more were raised.
Ahmed Jabari, the military leader of Hamas, was assassinated and a major portion of Hamas’ missile weapons were destroyed before they were even launched against Israel. Many were destroyed as well at the factories and launching facilities. Hamas reported 177 casualties, a relatively low number considering the extent of the Israeli bombardment, and the collateral damage appears to have been relatively contained. Tactically, Hamas could not seduce Israel into launching a ground offensive, which might well have changed the political results of the conflict.
The accuracy of Israeli attacks was reportedly extraordinary. Israeli intelligence is believed to have been remarkably accurate. Reports indicate that the Iron Dome defensive shield worked extremely well against the rocket barrage against Israel, scoring hits against approximately 85 percent of the rockets launched by Hamas. The Israeli military mobilization went off effectively as did the demobilizing of the reserves.
The United States’ role was critical. President Obama extended immediate and repeated support for the legitimacy of Israel’s right to defend itself, its citizens, and its sovereignty. This clearly influenced Prime Minister Netanyahu’s willingness to accept the president’s orchestration of a ceasefire. It also permitted the United States to bring the new Egyptian government into a vital role as peacemaker, despite the extensive anti-Israel rhetoric spewing forth from Cairo.
What effect, if any, has this effort had on Iran as the military supplier of Hamas as well as on Qatar as a key financial supporter? Will the Iranians be disturbed by the failure of their weapons or the success of Israel’s defense? Will they be more or less persuaded to believe in the likelihood of a U.S. and/or Israeli attack on their nuclear facilities? Will the Egyptian regime — even more so after the domestic rioting in Cairo over the weekend — shift to an even more doctrinaire Islam? Or will its facilitation of the ceasefire suggest that its priority remains to ensure continued U.S. economic and military assistance?
As the ceasefire appears to be taking effect — to last until the next confrontation — among the most important questions are those surrounding the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. They come from all sides of the discussion and present numerous potential red flags, but they must be considered.
What will be the disposition of a new Israeli government toward reentering peace talks after the elections on Jan. 22? How will Ehud Barak’s departure from politics and a future Netanyahu government affect the negotiating disposition on the part of the Israelis? Will the reopening of discussions between Israel and Turkey influence a positive inclination toward peace talks? Is Hamas more or less likely to begin their own rapprochement leading to a united, constructive approach toward a peace process? Will Palestinian plans to ask the UN General Assembly for full observer status scuttle any serious efforts toward peace talks? How much damage has occurred and may still be ahead as the Egyptian government of President Morsi now deals with what could become a major internal uprising? To what extent will this so pre-occupy Morsi that his involvement in Gaza will fall by the wayside?
And among the saddest questions: why do all other regional issues seem to pale in their perceived importance when compared to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? The Arab Spring has created turmoil everywhere in the region. The horror of the slaughter in Syria continues with little prospect for a resolution. Radical Islam is a persistent threat, while the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters spread their ideology to a larger and wider swath of the Arab world. And yet Mideast watchers, journalists, and statespeople continue to focus on the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation as if these other events were mere sideshows.
Unfortunately, even if the Arab-Israeli conflict were to be resolved, there would remain enormous political, religious, economic, and social challenges in the region. For many, therefore, focusing all attention on Israel is a wonderful form of avoidance.