Every military campaign that Israel conducts places great strain on the delicate fabric of its ties to other countries in the region. The current operation in the Gaza Strip is no different. A few hours after Operation Pillar of Defense began, Egypt decided to recall its ambassador from Israel, and Jordan also sent panicked messages.
These two Arab states - the only ones that have signed peace agreements with Israel, and which are scrupulous about maintaining them - absorb most of the political shrapnel scattered by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In Egypt, there are many forces and movements, both religious and secular, that are demanding that ties with Israel be severed. Jordan fears that a continuation of the operation in Gaza will spark massive protest demonstrations that would be exploited to undermine King Abdullah's control of the country.
Egypt and Jordan are not merely symbols of peace agreements that have succeeded, even if they aren't perfect. These agreements constitute a strategic asset that is vital to Israel's security. Egypt, despite the cold peace, and even though it is now run by the Muslim Brotherhood, recognizes the importance of military cooperation with Israel in the war on terror in Sinai - a battle that is no less vital to Egypt than it is to Israel. And security cooperation with Jordan has turned Israel's eastern border into one of the safest places in the region.
The very legitimacy the government now enjoys, deriving from the real need to protect southern communities, obligates the decision makers to exercise caution and proportionality, so as not to damage - and all the more so not to destroy - the relationships with other countries in the region that contribute so significantly to Israel's security.
Israel, which may be intoxicated by its army's ability to strike at the "terrorist infrastructure," must also think about the day after the operation: It must leave open diplomatic options that Arab countries can and will want to take up. Israel will derive little security benefit if the military operation succeeds in liquidating another few senior Hamas figures and destroying another few command posts and missile stockpiles, but destroys our relationships with Egypt and Jordan in the process and diverts world attention from Syria to Gaza and Jerusalem.
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