Tuesday, January 06, 2009

The Diplomatic Circus

Turkish PM Erdogan

Israel's "Operation Cast Lead" has generated a number of interesting diplomatic moves and rifts that give us some insights into the ambitions of various powers in the region.

Most remarkable have been Egypt's repeated pronouncements that Hamas itself is to blame for the crisis. The regime feels confident enought to withstand both foreign and domestic pressure, even as Nasrallah has castigated Mubarak for his alleged support of Israel. It is clear that Egypt wants Hamas weakened and is willing to tolerate large numbers of Palestinian casualties for this to happen. Egypt is asserting itself as the power broker in the Israeli-Gazan conflict, and making both the Iranians and Syrians look like idle talkers. The message to Hamas: we are your only road to salvation. 

The Jordanians are looking on quietly, hoping that the Israelis finish the job quickly, with as few Palestinian casualties as possible. They seem more antsy than the Egyptians about the operation's implications for them.

Among the Europeans, the French have played the most visible role in efforts to achieve a cease fire. Until now, their efforts have not achieved very much on the ground. Although Sarkozy has blamed Hamas for the eruption of violence, he has also tried to push for a quick end to the fighting. I am not sure what exactly France is up to. My sense is that Sarkozy is trying to seize an opportunity for France to establish another foothold in the Israeli-Arab conflict. Unlike the Egyptians, the French do not seem to place as high a priority on weakening Hamas. It is possible that they may even support a partial legitimization of the Hamas government in Gaza, which would be achieved through an insertion of French monitors at the Philadelphi corridor, to guard against the militarization of the Strip via underground tunnels. 

I am not sure how the Egyptians are responding to these moves. However it may be packaged, such international monitors on the Egyptian side of the border represent an affront to Egyptian sovereignty. Furthermore, Egypt may well want to keep some weapons against Israel in its arsenal, by preserving the option of turning a blind eye to Hamas or other Palestinian smuggling.

One can be sure that the Germans are watching France's high-profile diplomacy very carefully. Meanwhile, Angela Merkel is probably pursuing German objectives with a little more tact and efficacy than Sarkozy. 

The other regional power that has made headlines since the Gaza operation began is Turkey. Erdogan's condemnations of Israel have been especially damning. They seem to reflect Turkish public opinion but they are also, likely, connected to Turkey's efforts to mediate between Syria and Israel. Turkey has invested significantly in the Syrian track and sees the current conflict as a blow against its efforts and its standing in the Arab world. The Turks have also long sought a normalization of Hamas's rule over Gaza - I am not sure why this has been important to them (ideological reasons?).  

Qatar, as usual, is using the opportunity to strike blows at the Saudis, who are very quietly toeing the Egyptian-Jordanian-American line. 

For the U.S. and Israel the priority is that Hamas emerge visibly weakened from "Operation Cast Lead." Whatever cease fire emerges must look quite different also from the Lebanese solution.  Peace Now cannot mean War Tomorrow.

More on that in a future post.


sassinfras said...

the palestinians have alwayed been on their own and could not count on any arab leader to really help them. it shows how impotent the arabs really are when it come to dealing with israel.
i wonder what pressure the US is putting on these arab countries like egypt.

Amos said...

The US hardly needs to pressure Egypt to pursue its interests. Mubarak is very unhappy with Hamas right now, and I think the organization knows that they made a mistake when they tried to play the Egyptians.

Alex said...

I see Israel being amenable to this coming proposal (having Egyptian monitors prevent Hamas' smuggling)seeing that they havent really commited to conquering Gaza. Amir Oren was more or less correct when he said that this isnt a war but a brigade level raid. Now the problem is that most likely these monitors will not prevent any hostile activity on the part of Hamas but will certainly make it very difficult for Israel to respond.

Amos said...

Yes, Alex, this proposal is not acceptable as is. However, we may be missing something else behind the scenes. Perhaps Israel's agreement to this deal will be contingent on certain operational achievements in Gaza. The question is whether Israel will reach them in time. Let's hope that we do not see the waste of soldiers' lives that we witnessed in the last day of war before the cease fire with Hizbullah in 2006.

charlie said...

What do you see as being Israel's goal at the point in the operation? It's a shame to me that at a certain point they basically stopped trying to explain what they're doing--the attitude I've heard from Tzipi Livni and Avital Spokesperson have been essentially, We're doing what we're doing, we'll be done when we're done. The scary thing is if this reflects a lack of clarity within the gov't and military themselves. As it stands, they present themselves as essentially stepping into the Israeli f-you stereotype. Is that really necessary?

Amos said...

Hey Charlie,

I just wrote a short post addressing this very concisely but it probably doesn't provide a very satisfying answer to your question.

Anonymous said...

the dipomatic efforts will be a sham just like the israeli reason for bombing/invading gaza is a sham.
most of the rockets fired into israel have been launched by al aqsa martyrs brigade,by islamic jihad,by the badr forces. hamas repeatedly called for the rocket attacks to end and denounced those reponsible. the few rocket attacks hamas was involved in was in response to israeli aggression designed to break the truce. the truce wasn't worth the paper it was written on.in the month around august 2008 hardly any rocket were fired into israel but the israelis sent in a commando force to killed six hamas leaders. in response hamas launched rockets. during any peace period or truce israel has alway provoked arab aggression one way or another. when the israelis get a response they claim the arab have violated the agreement and thus attack using the full might of the IDF.