An unlikely event occurred this past week in the midst of escalating violence and tension along the Israeli-Gaza border. Unexpectedly, several world leaders spoke out against Hamas, including William Hague, the British Foreign Secretary. Hague stated that “Hamas bears principal responsibility for the current crisis.” A spokesperson for German Chancellor Angela Merkel said as much, adding Merkel felt that “there is no justification for firing rockets at Israel, which causes great suffering to the Israeli population.”
What was not surprising, however, was President Obama’s rapid concurrence, unless you have bought into a false Republican narrative that Obama is anti-Israel. The U.S. President expressed unshaken support for Israel, correctly acknowledging that the Jewish, democratic state has a right to defend its citizens from indiscriminate violence. He is absolutely right to address the fact that no country would tolerate the onslaught of unwarranted rocket fire that Israel had to endure in the days leading up to Israel’s countermeasures.
There is a difference between a measured response and a full-blown invasion, though. Assassinating Ahmed al-Jabari, the military leader of the militant wing of a theocratic-inspired militia who ultimately was responsible for policing the geographically small Gaza Strip was fair. Al-Jabari was also responsible for the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in 2006 and holding him captive for years, immediately sparking a regional conflict. If a rocket is fired over the border into Israel, he answers for it, and when hundreds were sent in a short period leading to Israel’s response, it was obvious he would be held accountable.
In spite of that, world leaders are correct to caution Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu against a ground assault on Gaza. While there is little doubt such an operation would massively deplete Hamas’ weapons stockpile, it would bring about a short-sighted solution to a long-term problem and cause undue harm to countless Palestinian civilians. Netanyahu’s domestic political opponents were arguably starting to gain traction against him, even after he called for an early election. Invading Gaza now would virtually eliminate any political opposition in the upcoming election in early 2013 and it would be naive to think that the latest row with Hamas has nothing to do with electoral politics.
Had no conflict arisen, President Obama would have been able to offer support to Netanyahu’s rivals, returning the favor that Netanyahu performed earlier this year when he all-but-endorsed Mitt Romney. If Netanyahu’s opponents, be they Tzipi Livni, Ehud Olmert, or Shimon Peres, had succeeded in leading their parties to power, this would have moved Obama closer to accomplishing his goal of finding a two-state solution in Israel and Palestine. Such an outcome would eventually bring about peace in the volatile region (knowing full well that eventually is still a long way away). Of course, with the commencement of increased rocket attacks against civilian centers in south and central Israel, Hamas has given its true rival in Netanyahu the excuse he needs to stay in power. Perhaps as the militant party of the Palestinians, however, eternal conflict is in the interests of its leaders as well.