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Statecraft of Obama, Netanyahu and Morsi

IsraCast Assessment: By collaborating behind the scenes, the three leaders of the U.S., Israel and Egypt have laid the groundwork for an improved regional relationship that may surpass the terms of the Gaza ceasefire agreement.

photo: @tahelisr on Instagram

 As of 21:00 hours local time, the Palestinian rockets from Gaza ceased flying through the air bound for Israeli towns and villages while Israeli aircraft stopped raiding Hamas targets in Gaza. The latest round in the latest slugfest between Gaza and Israel was over. Egypt's President Muhamed Morsi, the surprising Muslim Brotherhood leader, is now charged with overseeing that both sides honor the new truce. The silent and final arbitrator in this unlikely scenario is U.S. President Barack Obama who has skillfully pulled his substantial levers with both sides, possibly for the benefit of one and all, including the Palestinians in Gaza. Analyst David Essing is of the view that the process of achieving the latest ceasefire could be of paramount importance.

 Credit where credit is due…

Whether you love, hate or are indifferent to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak or Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, in all fairness, they deserve top marks for their handling of the crisis. They worked as a team and their statecraft gained the support of the Western world for Israel's right of self-defense in the face of the relentless Palestinian rocketing from Gaza. U.S. President Barack Obama also deserves credit; he learned a thing or two about the Middle East during his first term in office. With the U.S. and its NATO allies fighting a similar type of warfare in Afghanistan, Obama condemned the rocketing of Israeli civilians and for once was publicly on Netanyahu's side. Obama realized this was an opportunity for the U.S. to rebuild some of its burnt bridges not only with Egypt but also with the Arab world.

Realizing the dire need of Egypt's President Mohamed Morsi for financial aid from America and the international community, Obama also approached Morsi. Obama banked on Morsi's being more concerned with Egypt's national interests than with in his Moslem Brotherhood's religious affinity with Hamas. Obama was right. Morsi accepted Obama offer to step up to the plate in the Israeli-Gaza crisis and act seriously as leader of the Arab world in ending the bloodbath between Gaza and Israel. Both Netanyahu and Morsi were on board and Hamas, after losing its Syrian patron President Bashar Assad, is now beholden to Cairo.

Hillary Clinton and Benjamin Netanyhu

After Obama surprised Netanyahu and Israel, the Israeli PM reciprocated by cooperating with Morsi's mediating effort that eventually paid off. Obama, Morsi and Netanyahu have emerged as responsible statesmen, although many Israelis are annoyed that Israel did not continue the offensive against Hamas. But when tempers cool off, I bet a majority of Israelis will agree that Netanyahu and Barak did the right thing by not ordering tens of thousands of IDF reservists to invade Gaza. Their families will be sleeping much better tonight. I also suspect that the grateful Morsi and Netanyahu awaited the arrival of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to allow the Obama administration take credit for forging the ceasefire deal. During her tour, Clinton may have paid more than a courtesy call on West Bank Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah. Might Clinton have told Abbas that now the time is ripe to return to direct peace talks with Netanyahu rather than grandstanding in the U.N. General Assembly?

Will this latest ceasefire be honored by Hamas? All the previous agreements worked out in October 2004, November 2006, March 2008 and January 2009 were violated by Hamas. Each time Israel hit back hard and then Hamas would seek a ceasefire. After it rearmed and regrouped it would escalate its occasional launching of rockets until it felt ready for a renewed barrage on Israeli towns and villages along the Gaza frontier.

In December 2008 Hamas and the other terror organizations repeated this tactic. The government of Ehud Olmert launched the 'Cast Lead' operation that included a major ground operation into Gaza to suppress the rocketing and clobber Hamas. The subsequent ceasefire lasted for about two years before Hamas and the other terror groups stepped up their sporadic rocketing till it reached a crescendo; the Palestinians launched some 100 rockets within one 24 hour period and fired an anti-tank rocket at an IDF jeep that was traveling inside Israeli territory. Miraculously, all four were not killed on the spot. As it was, one soldier was critically wounded while the other three sustained light to moderate injuries. Only then did Israel decide to target Ahmed Jabari, the top Hamas commander, who had orchestrated the Hamas escalation.

No one in Israel has any illusions about Hamas honoring the Morsi ceasefire. Based on past experience, it probably will not. But Netanyahu and Barak have warned in no uncertain terms that after the dust settles and the ceasefire takes hold in another day or so, they expects Egypt President Morsi to act as an honest broker in adjudicating any disputes between Israel and Gaza. (At the Israeli news conference, the outspoken Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman startled everyone by even praising Morsi's contribution to resolving the crisis the crisis). If Morsi is serious about consolidating his role not only in the Arab world but also in the international arena, now is his chance. This should necessitate his dropping of his Islamist rhetoric against Israel and sending his ambassador back to Israel.

David Essing

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