Opinion

The Great Debate

The war in Gaza threatens Egypt too

A Palestinian woman wearing clothes stained with the blood of other relatives, who medics said were wounded in Israeli shelling, cries at a hospital in Gaza City

Cairo’s efforts to mediate between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza, according to conventional wisdom, have largely been dictated by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s animosity toward Hamas. After all, Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, which Sisi’s government has declared a terrorist organization and regards as a serious threat.

That is why, this argument goes, the Egyptian ceasefire proposal ignored Hamas’ conditions and why the Israelis so quickly supported it. The proposal called for an immediate ceasefire. Only then would the terms be negotiated, including Hamas’ demands for an end to Israeli attacks, an end to the blockade of Gaza and the release of rearrested Palestinians who were freed in a prisoner 2011 exchange.

The story is far more complicated, however, for both Sisi and Egypt. Because the longer the war goes on, the more Gaza becomes a domestic problem for the Egyptian president. One he does not want.

U.S. Secretary of State Kerry speaks with Egyptian President al-Sisi in CairoIndeed, the fighting provides an opening for Sisi’s opponents. At a minimum, it creates a distraction the Egyptian president does not need now — he has said his priorities are the economy and internal security. So Sisi has a strong interest in ending the war, particularly since Hamas and its allies are exhibiting far more military muscle than anyone expected.

But Sisi is facing a number of major complications triggered by the war.

First, though many Egyptians view Hamas as an ally of the Muslim Brotherhood, most sympathize with the Palestinians and are angry at Israel. When they see the scale of casualties —  for example, the death and destruction in the Shuja’iah neighborhood in Gaza — they overwhelmingly blame Israel. This is true even as their leaders express anger over Hamas’ refusal to accept the Egyptian ceasefire proposal.

Life — if you can call it that — under Israel’s Iron Dome

 Israelis take cover on the side of a road as a siren sounds warning of incoming rockets outside the northern Gaza Strip

I’ve become pretty great at rocket dodging. As a New Yorker living in Tel Aviv while researching a book, I never thought I’d say that. And yet it’s true: since Hamas began firing rockets into Tel Aviv on July 8, I’ve learned to move quickly.

Out jogging when a siren blares? I have 90 seconds to find the nearest building with a bunker or drop down in a ditch, hands over my head. Driving a car? I have 90 seconds to pull over, get out and lie on the pavement, hands over my head.

Since Hamas began tossing rockets indiscriminately at Israel — hoping that the Iron Dome will miss at least one of them — I’ve started a tally.

Netanyahu hopes to avoid Gaza ground operation. Why he might order one anyway.

An Israeli soldier rests atop a tank stationed on a field outside the central Gaza Strip

To understand whether Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu intends to send ground troops into Gaza, it might help to scrutinize one of his decisions from this week.

While the Islamic Hamas group pummeled Israel with rockets and took deadly hits from Israeli warplanes, the cabinet announced that it had authorized the army to mobilize 40,000 reservists – a huge force by any measure.

A large operation against Hamas would certainly involve reservists. But when Israel genuinely prepares for military campaigns, it does so quietly, often censoring information about call ups and imposing gag orders on journalists.

A battleground for weapons of the future

More than a week after a U.S.-Egyptian brokered ceasefire brought a fragile peace to Gaza, military analysts are busily assessing the fighting between Israel and Hamas. Their goal: Apply lessons from the eight-day battle to weaponry still in development.

Israel’s frequent conflicts with its Arab neighbors have historically been proving grounds for the latest in battlefield technology. Arab-Israeli wars inspired the first operational aerial drones, radar-evading stealth warplanes and projectile-defeating armor. All are now staples of the world’s leading militaries.

Analysts now say this recent fighting could spur the proliferation of highly accurate, fast-firing defenses against rocket barrages, a threat that has long flummoxed military planners. The solution could be inspired by Israel’s now-famous Iron Dome, a rocket-intercepting missile system that shot down hundreds of Hamas’ rockets before they could strike Israeli settlements.

Mideast’s dynamic opportunity for peace

The Arab world may be in turmoil, but its leaders actually need an enduring peace—now in Gaza and long-term with Israel—because regimes across the region are vulnerable as never before.

Whether they like it or not, that’s true for newly elected Islamists. And old-order autocrats need resolution to prevent protests at home from turning against them.

The challenge for Washington is taking advantage of the vulnerability to work with the new political roster — including players it doesn’t know all that well. The tectonic political shift over the past two years offers a dynamic opportunity.

from The Great Debate UK:

Talking to Terrorists: yesterday’s gunmen, today’s politicians?

John Bew-John Bew is Lecturer in Modern British History at Peterhouse, Cambridge University. Martyn Frampton is a Research Fellow, also at Peterhouse. Their book, co-written with Iñigo Gurruchaga, is called "Talking to Terrorists: Making Peace in Northern Ireland and the Basque Country" and they blog at Talking to Terrorists. The opinions expressed are their own.-

One of the current fashions in British and American diplomatic circles is the idea that it is necessary to engage with our enemies, no matter how extreme they might seem. In response to the recent Iranian election results, for example, Steven Clemons of the New America Foundation – a think tank with strong links to the Obama administration – suggested that "nothing at all has changed in the equation that Obama set out during the campaign: we have to deal with out enemies – we must engage".

Equally, many observers now suggest that the same logic should be applied to non-state actors including Hamas, Hezbollah and even "moderate" Taliban in Afghanistan. Earlier this year, the British Foreign Office reanimated contacts with Hezbollah and several senior British MPs invited Hamas to participate in a video-link discussion in Westminster.

First 100 Days: Obama, Iran and Richard Nixon

Bernd Debusmann - Great Debate- Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own -

Here is a piece of advice for Barack Obama for dealing with Iran, one of the countries that will loom large in his presidency. Forget the way five of your predecessors dealt with the place. Take your cue from Richard Nixon and his 1972 breakthrough with China.

Just as Nixon and his secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, realized that a quarter of a century of isolating and weakening China had not served America’s interests, so Obama should acknowledge that 30 years of U.S. policy since the 1979 Iranian revolution has failed and that what is needed is a grand bargain, a shift as fundamental as the one Nixon achieved with China.

Those suggestions come from Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett, a husband-and-wife team of independent experts who worked on Middle East policy on the National Security Council during George W. Bush’s first term in the White House.

from For the Record:

Reporting in Gaza: Striving for fairness

dean-150Dean Wright is Global Editor, Ethics, Innovation and News Standards. Any opinions are his own.

Let’s say it up front: Almost all of you will find something in this column to take issue with.

That’s because the subject is the conflict in Gaza and perceptions of bias in reporting on it. News consumers detect media bias on any number of subjects, but there is nothing like the continuing Mideast conflict to bring out the passions of partisans on all sides.

from India Insight:

U.S. on Israel — double standards or a double-edged sword?

December 24 - Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip ratchet up rocket fire towards Israel after Hamas ended a six-month ceasefire.

December 27 - Israel launches air strikes on Gaza in response killing more than 200 people in Gaza, the highest one-day death toll in 60 years of Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

December 27 - The United States blames Hamas for breaking the ceasefire and provoking Israeli air strikes.

from Global News Journal:

A Braveheart Christmas in the Holy Land

In the big battle scene in the movie Braveheart, terrified whispers ran up and down the ragged ranks of sword-waving Scots that the English were ranged before them with “500 heavy horse” – armoured cavalry of devastating power in those days.

But the wild-haired hero-general William Wallace (actor-director Mel Gibson) rode his pony up and down the front ranks shouting: “We don’t have to beat them. We just have to fight them!”

That was in the 14th century. But 700 years later it seems to be the same cry  from the Gaza Strip, where Palestinian fighters allied to the Islamic fundamentalist cause led by Hamas pursue a lopsided battle against Israel, pitching erratic, homemade rockets into nearby Israeli lands, until they trigger a major offensive and start taking the heaviest casualties in 60 years of conflict, from Israel F-16s and Apache helicopters.

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