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 al-Sissi 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 Sissi 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.
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