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.