An international coalition scurried to reach a cease-fire, save Gaza and draw up a complex, three-part agreement that would stem arms smuggling to Hamas. The strongest army in the Middle East can register a victory against the group. It may even be that Israel has restored its deterrent against the Palestinian civilian population. Perhaps this will only be temporary, like after Operation Litani in 1978 or Grapes of Wrath in 1996, or perhaps a little longer, like after Operation Defensive Shield in 2002. Calm but no security, cease-fire but no tranquillity. This is a victory meant to send out a series of messages - to Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria, and mostly to Iran. To burn into their consciousness and emphasize once again the threat from Israel.
But in all the ruckus in the Gaza Strip, the great threat, the real threat, was out to lunch. During the past three weeks did anyone hear anything about Iran's nuclear program? The threat that terrified Israel is still hovering and Israel is not a more secure country after the war. The toy blocks that were tossed in the air in Gaza have landed in a new line. Turkey is no longer that same dear friend; Jordan has become a suspicious object; the Palestinian Authority will find it hard to put forth an overall Palestinian leadership without cooperating with Hamas; the United States of George W. Bush "dared" to submit a proposal less in line with Israel's interests, paving the way for the Obama administration to continue along the same path; official Europe did not hesitate to condemn Israel; and Egypt, which initiated the cease-fire and will be accountable for ensuring that it is met, is infuriated with Israel and Hamas for forcing it into such a tight spot.
Not a single Hezbollah Katyusha will be disarmed because of the war in the Gaza Strip, and Iran's nuclear program is just fine, thank you. Now, more than ever, Israelis will have to make sure they speak English when they travel abroad.
There is no point in trying to think of what would have happened if. If Israel had recognized the Hamas government when it was elected; if it had treated Mahmoud Abbas seriously or had really negotiated with Syria. Memoirs do not make policy. In any case, Israel opted for an arrangement that followed a new order, with hints and pats on the back instead of working papers; photo-ops instead of a vision for the future.
But tomorrow Israel is getting a new American president - a president who has already explained to everyone that he prefers a new order over temporary arrangements. He is ready to turn a new page of dialogue with Iran; to reexamine U.S.-Syrian relations; to consider Iraq as a bitter episode from which it is best to exit quickly. He even thinks there is no longer a need to kill Osama bin Laden. He is not threatening. Barack Obama may bring along a new set of lessons for the Middle East that may not result in a real solution, but will force Israel to adjust its strategic thinking.
Obama is committed to Israel's security as Bush and Clinton were, but he may come to see the essence of such security in a different way. Peace, for example, may be seen by him as an essential component of Israel's security. This may be novel, and perhaps even revolutionary in Israeli eyes, but it had better prepare - not using lobbyists in Washington but by planning for constructive dialogue with its neighbors.
Israel, whose strategic choices bolstered the significance and threat posed by armed groups, will need to reevaluate its approach to the Saudi initiative. The safety belt it offers can dissolve the threats of these groups if Israel understands that they threaten the Arab states no less than they threaten it. Israel needs the Saudi initiative not because it needs Arab security, but because it needs to aspire to permanent arrangements with states, not with groups or gangs.
If Syria is the one influencing Hamas and Hezbollah, if Egypt's status is what determines the region's future, if Saudi Arabia is the counterweight against Iran, these are the partners with whom it is necessary to make a deal and not with their subcontractors. The Saudi initiative has still not expired, but neither have the threats. Without adopting a new strategy that will bolster the Saudi initiative, the war in the Gaza Strip will remain a successful episode and nothing more; a temporary arrangement until the next round.
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