Published — Friday 23 November 2012
Last update 23 November 2012 1:15 am
The famous scientist, Albert Einstein, defined insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." We have watched this movie before. Every now and then Israel launches a military campaign against Hamas in Gaza without settling anything. In this never-ending war, the two sides reached many cease-fire agreements only to hold for short time. This time it was the same: Israel troops pounded the Palestinians in Gaza and the latter did not cut and run. Hamas stood its ground.
After a week of fighting, both sides managed to avert all-out war. Israel's preparations for an invasion were in full swing. On the other hand, Hamas demonstrated its military ability by striking Tel Aviv. Despite Hamas' initial losses, footage of Israelis rushing to shelters might have boosted Hamas' morale.
Egypt, which has already expressed its solidarity with Hamas, was in an ideal position to broker a cease-fire. It pushed the two sides to reach a truce before it was too late. Egypt made it perfectly clear that if the opportunity for reinstating cease-fire were to be missed, the situation would swiftly descend into a full war with grave consequences.
Explicit in the statements of both sides to the conflict was the desire to come across as the clear winner. With general elections expected in two months, it was very important for the Israeli prime minister to win this round. If he fails to assure the Israeli public or if the media projects him as a loser, he will have an uphill elections battle. Netanyahu's statement that the objective of the campaign was to take out the "terrorist infrastructure" in Gaza while doing everything possible not to harm civilians should not be taken at a face value. This statement was a smokescreen that hid his preparations for a victory in the upcoming elections.
Hamas, on the other hand, sought to claim victory. The missiles it fired, that hit Tel Aviv, had emboldened Hamas and rallied the regional public opinion behind the movement. It remains to be seen whether Hamas will be able to position itself on an equal footing with Israel, a feat Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah movement have failed to achieve for years.
In this case, Abbas and Fatah will definitely emerge as the losing side in this latest round of fighting between Israel and Hamas. The new environment is not conducive to another round of war. President Hosni Mubarak has gone and Muhammad Mursi cannot afford to see an Israeli invasion of Gaza, with huge collateral damage, without doing something. He withdrew the Egyptian ambassador from Tel Aviv and his prime minister paid a visit to Gaza to demonstrate solidarity against Israeli assault.
Undoubtedly, an Israeli ground invasion would have had a price tag: The relations with Egypt would have severely deteriorated. And yet, it is not as if the region has not gone through similar scenarios. At the end of 2008, Israel started a war against Hamas over the same issues. It sought to put a stop to the Palestinian rocket attacks. Did it succeed? The respite did not last long.
Israeli leaders need to understand that this crisis has no military solution. The formula for security and peace is clear: Solving the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians through a diplomatic and political approach.
As said above, the diplomatic process is absent. The flare-up in Gaza provided an opportunity for the new regime in Egypt to play a constructive role. The new president in Egypt grabbed this opportunity to create a different environment in the Israeli-Palestinian interaction. The Egyptian role is key to future stability in Gaza. The United States is focusing its energy and thinking on the Pacific. In his second term, President Obama is poised to sharpen Washington's strategy to the Pacific to manage the rise of China. The American new strategy may lead to a kind of retreat from the Middle East. Seen in this way, new challenges may arise and therefore Washington is better off in the Middle East if it can help Egypt play a constructive role in mediation between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. Again, this never-ending war will be inconclusive and no side will come across as a clear winner. Furthermore, this boring and expensive exercise may be repeated in the future.