Clinton heading to Middle East as Israel prepares ground war on Gaza

Two days ago, John McCain nominated Bill Clinton as a US envoy to the Middle East as a way to dial down the war that Hamas initiated with Israel.  Instead, the other Clinton will shortly arrive in the region as efforts to cobble together a meaningful cease-fire continue to fail.  Hillary Clinton — the actual Secretary of State — will meet with both Israeli and Palestinian Authority leadership, as well as Turkey and Egypt, to try to push the players toward a cease-fire:

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will travel to the Middle East on Tuesday to meet with officials in Israel, the West Bank and Egypt to discuss ongoing violence in Gaza, White House officials said, marking a dramatic escalation of U.S. involvement in trying to resolve the week-old conflict.

Clinton will talk with leaders in Jerusalem, Ramallah and Cairo. She will depart for the region from Phnom Penh, where she was taking part in the East Asia Summit with President Obama. But it was far from clear what Clinton would be able to achieve in a region dramatically reshaped since previous hostilities in 2009.

Although Clinton may be able to pressure Israel to refrain from a ground offensive on Gaza, the United States does not have relations with Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the densely populated enclave. Clinton will instead meet with Palestinian leaders in the West Bank, who are largely peripheral to the unfolding crisis. Israel is negotiating through Egypt, whose President Mohamed Morsi is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, a cousin organization to Hamas.

We used to have a lot more influence in Egypt, before we pushed out Hosni Mubarak, who had guaranteed the peace with Israel and at least fitfully patrolled the Sinai region to limit arms to Gaza.  Clinton and Barack Obama demanded his withdrawal in favor of immediate elections, which all but ensured that the Muslim Brotherhood — Hamas’ mother organization and the only group organized well enough to take advantage of that time frame — would take control of Egypt.  This crisis is due at least in part to the “smart power” fumbling of the so-called Arab Spring, and it’s not terribly likely that the same players who created the problem will have good answers on how to solve it now in Gaza.

Jeffrey Goldberg notes the effect that the Arab Spring had on Hamas’ calculations, and why they felt that the time had arrived to provoke Israel into an all-out war:

Hamas, which is the Palestine branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, is theologically committed to the obliteration of Israel and believes, as a matter of faith, that Jews are Allah’s enemies. Its leaders have believed, since the group’s inception, that Jews are soft (“We love death and they love life,” a Hamas leader once told me, and it is a commonly expressed thought). Hamas also believes that eventually misery and fear will drive most Jews to leave Israel, which it views as a Muslim waqf, or endowment, not merely the rightful home of the Palestinian people.

This strategy only works because Hamas leaders believe that the deaths of Palestinians aid their cause. As we have seen in this latest iteration of the Arab-Israeli war, every death of a Palestinian civilian is a victory for Hamas and a defeat for Israel. Palestinians in Gaza who dissent from this approach are often punished by Hamas. …

Hamas’s decision to increase the tempo of rocket attacks at Israeli civilian targets — the cause of this latest round of violence, as President Barack Obama and most Western leaders have asserted — emerged not only from a desire on the part of the group to terrorize the Jewish state out of existence. It also emerged from a cold political calculation that the Arab Spring (or, in the eyes of Hamas, the Islamist Spring) means that the arc of history is bending toward them and away from the Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas and its more moderate Arab supporters. This analysis has encouraged Hamas to assert itself now as the main player in the Palestinian “resistance.”

In other words, don’t expect a capitulation to the “moderates” at this stage — not unless Egypt and Turkey threaten to cut off Hamas.  Turkey’s assertion yesterday that Israel is a “terrorist state” doesn’t sound like Tayyip Erdogan is contemplating that kind of strategy.

So, we’re probably looking at some kind of ground war, although Israel announced today that it would delay any incursion to give diplomats more time to reach a solution.  What form would a ground war take?  CNN asked that question this morning:

“What does victory look like for Israel?” the CNN anchor asks.  I’m not sure that Israel can picture a victory past the destruction of rocket launchers and a way to block more from being smuggled in for Hamas’ use, but that may be enough.

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