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Who can stop this conflict?

1) Barak Ravid, Haaretz; 2) photos from the Atlantic; 3) NY Times on Netanyahu’s lack of room for manoeuvre; 4) Washington Post on Egypt’s uncertain role.

A plume of smoke and dirt rises over Gaza following an Israel Air Force bombing, as seen from near Sderot on July 9, 2014. Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images

Lacking a Gaza exit strategy, Israel risks being dragged harshly in

During this round of fighting with Hamas, Israel finds itself with no reliable or relevant party to mediate a ceasefire.

By Barak Ravid, Haaretz
July 10, 2014

When the decision was made to launch Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, the security cabinet did not set any diplomatic objectives for it. Beyond trying to stop the rocket fire by military means, it isn’t clear if the Netanyahu government wants to simply restore the status quo and gain a few more months of quiet, or to fashion a new diplomatic reality regarding Gaza for the morning after.

The only diplomacy Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Foreign Ministry are engaged in right now is public diplomacy. Netanyahu spoke on Wednesday by phone to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, asking them what they would do if missiles were being fired at Paris or Berlin, and also asking them to publicly condemn Hamas.

There was barely any mention of nonmilitary ways to stop the rocket fire and prevent a further escalation, though Merkel hinted to Netanyahu that a diplomatic process might help extract Israel from its current situation. But during this round of fighting with Hamas, Israel finds itself with no reliable or relevant party to mediate between it and Hamas and help negotiate a cease-fire.

Egyptian President Abdul Fattah el-Sisi and his government are not particularly motivated to push for a Gaza cease-fire, and while Egyptian intelligence has passed messages between the parties, Egypt can’t be an effective broker.

One reason for this is that Egypt and Israel are in a conflict of interest over the fighting in Gaza. Israel wants to end this round of clashes as soon as possible and avoid a broad ground operation, while Egypt wouldn’t shed any tears if Hamas continued to suffer Israeli attacks for a few more days, or even a few more weeks. As far as the government in Cairo is concerned, Hamas is the little sister of the Muslim Brotherhood, which it has declared a terror group. Hamas, naturally, doesn’t see Egypt as an honest broker.

Moreover, during Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012 the correct relations between the Obama administration and the government of former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi facilitated a cease-fire under American and Egyptian auspices. The bad relations between the administration and the Sisi government would make it very difficult for the Americans to pull off something similar now.

Nor can Israel count on Turkey to be the go-between. Netanyahu has been dragging his feet about signing the reconciliation agreement with Ankara and thus cannot ask Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to assist. Israel no longer has ties with Qatar, the current home of Hamas political bureau chief Khaled Meshal, so that country can’t be of much help. And UN Middle East envoy Robert Serry is considered hostile by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

So even though Protective Edge is only in its fourth day, Israel desperately needs an exit strategy. Every day that goes by without discussing one is liable to drag Israel into a dangerous ground operation against its will.

Some of the photos published by the Atlantic on July 9th, Israel and Hamas Trade Rocket Attacks, Tension Builds

Palestinians survey a house  destroyed in an Israeli air strike in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on July 8, 2014. Photo by Ibraheem Abu Mustafa / Reuters

A ball of fire erupts following an Israeli air strike in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on July 9, 2014. Photo by Said Khatib/AFP/Getty Images

Part of the Iron Dome air-defence system fires to intercept a rocket over the city of Ashdod on July 8, 2014, Israel. Photo by Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images

A Palestinian girl views the damage done to her family house following an overnight Israeli airstrike in Gaza City on July 8, 2014. Photo by Khalil Hamra / AP

A Palestinian paramedic shows the remains of four people from the same family after their home was targeted in an Israeli air strike on July 8, 2014, Khan Younis. A missile slammed into the house killing seven people, among them two teenagers, and wounding 25, emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra told AFP. Witnesses said an Israeli drone fired a warning flare, prompting relatives and neighbours to gather at the house as a human shield. But shortly afterwards, an F-16 warplane fired a missile that levelled the building. Photo by Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images

Israeli Leader Vows to Intensify Gaza Attacks on Hamas

By Steven Erlanger and Isabel Kershner, NY Times
July 09, 2014

JERUSALEM — As new volleys of rockets whizzed toward Israel’s major cities on Wednesday and Israel pressed its intensive air bombardment of Gaza, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel vowed to increase “the assault on Hamas and the terrorist organizations in Gaza.”

But even as Israel’s jets and drones battered targets all across the narrow Mediterranean enclave, the rising Palestinian death toll and increased international alarm suggested Israel would not have the leeway for a military operation on the scale of 2008’s Cast Lead, which lasted three weeks and involved extensive infantry combat in Gaza.

The Israeli government was already facing condemnation and criticism from Jordan, the European Union and President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority as the death toll across Gaza hit at least 53 since Saturday. No Israelis have been reported killed.

The United States’ support for the Israeli operation also appeared conditional, Israeli analysts said, as Washington called for “restraint from both sides.”

Israel and Hamas began this latest round of fighting after a spike in tensions fueled by the abduction and killing of three Israeli teenagers hitchhiking in the West Bank and what is suspected to be the revenge killing of a Palestinian teenager by Israelis.

On Wednesday, after Hamas fired nearly 100 rockets into Israel, Mr. Netanyahu met with senior military commanders near Gaza and vowed to press on. He said that with public support “the operation will be expanded and will continue until the firing at our communities stops and quiet is restored.”

Responding to the increasing number of casualties in Gaza, Mr. Abbas said Israel was waging “a war against the Palestinian people in every sense of the word” and accused it of “genocide.” He said he had been in contact with President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt, who promised to try to restore the cease-fire of 2012 but who has also pointedly not come to the aid of Hamas, which he sees as an adversary.

In a televised speech from Qatar, the Hamas political chief, Khaled Meshal, blamed Israel for the conflict and rejected mediation efforts. “We receive calls from mediators from Arab and Western sides to broker a cease-fire,” he said. “We say to those who ask us for a lull: Go back!”

The deadliest single strike of the latest flare-up took place early Wednesday when a missile hit the house in northern Gaza of an Islamic Jihad rocket commander, Abdullah Diyfallah, killing him and five family members. Israeli strikes hit other military figures and their houses, as well as rocket launchers and storage facilities.

Hamas continued to fire longer-range rockets across Israel, keeping many Israelis at home or in shelters. One Syrian-made M-302 rocket hit near Hadera, about 70 miles from Gaza, according to an Israeli Army spokesman, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, who said that Palestinians in Gaza had “tens” more like it.

Still, despite the reach of the rockets, Mr. Netanyahu is thought to be reluctant to order a large military operation in Gaza, which could quickly turn bloody for both sides. A ground operation could bring more intense criticism of Israel, as in 2008, for what could be large numbers of Palestinian dead, as Israeli troops fight armed Hamas members who often dress like civilians and live among them. In 2008, 1,400 Palestinians died and fewer than 15 Israelis.

But Israel then had a more favorable international environment, said Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States until last September. At that time, Israel had made what was considered a serious peace offer to the Palestinians and got credit for it, especially with Washington. Similarly, Mr. Oren said, Israel’s withdrawal of troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005 won it some international praise, and slowed the criticism when Israel went to war in Gaza and southern Lebanon the next year for more than a month.

“But we have no credit now in the international community, and that will play quickly in the United Nations Security Council,” said Mr. Oren, a scholar at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya. “Our air force is much better and very accurate, but inevitably civilians will be hit and the international reaction will be very quick.”

All that, he said, “is a restraint on a big operation or a prolonged one.” Some in government believe “let’s just get it over with and take the blame in the Security Council because we’ll end up there anyway,” he said, while others are urging more caution, wanting simply to end rocket fire from Gaza while diminishing the power of Hamas.

Gerald M. Steinberg, a political scientist at Bar-Ilan University, said that “this is one of those accidental wars,” one from which Mr. Netanyahu “won’t benefit.”

One reason, Mr. Steinberg said, is that after the failure of the extended peace effort by Secretary of State John Kerry, the United States is “seen as exhausted, unable to convince anyone to back off, and Europe is the same.” And the Arab world is in turmoil, he added, undermining the influence of the Arab League.

As the politicians played to their audiences, the mood of the communities on both sides was somber.

In Kiryat Malachi, in southern Israel near Gaza, Hani Azagvi packed essentials for her small daughters. In 2012, the house next door took a direct hit from a rocket, and she decided this time to go to friends in Nazareth.

Achsa Halili, 56, pointing to another family leaving for Hadera, said: “As long as we are here and they are on the other side, there will be no quiet. They think they can be safe in Hadera? There are rockets there, too.”

In Ness Ziona, an orderly suburb south of Tel Aviv, a large chunk of shrapnel from a rocket intercepted in the air by an Israeli missile crashed on tree-lined Weizmann Street, landing between cars in the morning rush hour.

Israeli house near border hit by rocket from Gaza. No casualties.

“There’s a feeling of war,” said Avi Mashiach, 40, who works as a clerk in Ness Ziona’s City Hall. “Israelis want to see the people of Gaza surrender. We should send in more aircraft, tanks and commandos. This is the time to finish Hamas, to destroy them.”

Roi Eliahu, 39, was at the shopping mall trying to amuse his two young children with miniature airplane rides after he and his wife decided it was not safe to send them to their summer day camp.

“We are willing to put up with even a year of sirens as long as they are doing what needs to be done,” he said of the government and the military. “If the army wanted to, it could dismantle Hamas in five hours and flatten Gaza.”

The mood was very different in Gaza and in the West Bank, too. When air-raid sirens sounded over Jerusalem on Tuesday night, there were cheers, applause and shouts of “Allahu akbar!” in East Jerusalem neighborhoods and at the Al-Aksa mosque compound.

“The ball is rolling down, and the third intifada has become unavoidable,” said Mustaser al-Sheikh, a pharmacist in the Qalandia refugee camp near Ramallah. He said that Israel could not win a war against guerrilla fighters supported by a 1.7 million population in Gaza.

“All my friends are celebrating the falling of rockets on the major cities,” he said, referring to the rockets striking Israel.

By day, the refugee camp was calm, but at nightfall, at the end of the day’s fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, youths have been throwing stones at the Israeli checkpoints to the south and north of Ramallah and clashing with soldiers.

Muhammad Hammad, who owns a cosmetics store at the Amari refugee camp, which abuts Ramallah, said of the warnings of a new Palestinian uprising, “I know it is coming, but it will be disastrous for us.” If the second intifada that began in 2000 set the Palestinians back 20 years, he said, a third one would set them back double that time.

Steven Erlanger reported from Jerusalem, and Isabel Kershner from Ness Ziona, Israel. Fares Akram contributed reporting from Gaza; Said Ghazali from Ramallah, West Bank; and Rina Castelnuovo from Kiryat Malakhi, Israel.

The man the Israeli-Palestinian crisis needs most? Egypt’s Mohamed Morsi.

By Adam Taylor, Washington Post
July 09, 2014

Less than two years ago, the situation between Israel and the Palestinian territories seemed to be on the brink of disaster. In November 2012, Israeli airstikes pummeled the Gaza Strip while militants fired rockets back at Israeli towns. As scores of Palestinians died and Israeli families cowered, the international community seemed split and unsure about how to deal with it. Experienced international mediators looked impotent.

In fact, the one man who seemed able to step in had been a world leader only for a few months. And, unfortunately, he would be a world leader only for a few months longer.

At the time, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s role in the Israeli-Palestinian talks was something of a revelation. After the conclusion of the talks, all sides seemed to agree that Egypt had played the key role in solving the crisis. Here’s how The Post’s Michael Birnbaum put it in 2012:

The end result — an agreement between Israel and Hamas, which have long refused to acknowledge each other, brokered by a neighboring Islamist government — would have been unthinkable before the Arab Spring reshaped the region less than two years ago, toppling autocrats who had long held political Islam at bay and strengthening the hand of once-isolated groups such as Hamas.

Morsi had played a different game than his predecessor, Hosni Mubarak. While Egypt had negotiated peace treaties before, critics of the Egyptian autocrat had long argued that he had bowed to Israeli and U.S. pressure to isolate the Gaza Strip and Hamas. Morsi, of course, was part of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist movement that eventually gave birth to Hamas. Soon after entering office, he eased travel for Palestinians across the Rafah crossing in southern Gaza, a small but clearly noteworthy change of course.

As negotiations began in November 2012, no one was surprised that Morsi came down on the side of the Palestinians. What was surprising, however, was that he seemed to be able to do so without alienating the Israelis. The Egyptian president pledged to adhere to the 1979 Israel-Egypt peace treaty, for example, and kept lines of communication to Israel and the United States open as tensions grew. The communication and good faith proved fruitful: Just minutes before the brokered truce went into effect, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly said that he wanted to express his “appreciation for the efforts of Egypt to obtain a cease-fire.”

Times have changed, and Morsi isn’t around to help mediate today’s Israeli-Palestinian crisis. Egypt’s first democratically elected leader was forced out of office a year ago; he is facing a number of criminal charges related to his time in office. Morsi was eventually replaced by Egyptian military leader Abdel Fatah al-Sissi in an election this year that left many international observers underwhelmed.

Exactly what Sissi makes of the Palestinian situation is unclear. On the one hand, since his election, he has significantly tightened the borders with the Gaza Strip. However, before he was elected, he said he would not receive an Israeli prime minister without concessions to Palestinians. Egypt’s ambassador to the Palestinian territories, Wael Nasr El-Din, attended the funeral of the Palestinian teenager allegedly killed by Israeli extremists this weekend and there is talk of some kind of Egypt-brokered deal happening. Hamas is certainly not a natural ally for Egypt’s new government, but, as Palestinian political scientist Ali Jarbawi noted in an op-ed for the New York Times, Sissi does appear to be trying to move his foreign policy away from U.S. interests into a more independent direction. More support for Palestinian causes may be a way for him to show Egypt’s geopolitical clout in the face of other regional giants such as Turkey and Iran.

Would Morsi have been able to defuse the current tensions between the Israelis and the Palestinians? Perhaps not – this situation is different from the one in 2012 and arguably far more complicated. But it’s hard to deny that with the military coup that ousted Morsi, one of the glimmers of hope in Middle East diplomacy appears to have been extinguished just before we needed it most. And we’re still not entirely sure what has replaced it.

Adam Taylor writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post. Originally from London, he studied at the University of Manchester and Columbia University.

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