New eyes needed in Gaza

11 January 2009
Israel has little more than a week to prove its assault on Gaza was worth the cost. But it looks like it is a war everyone will lose.

Time is running out for Israel's war in Gaza, now seen by many as being little more than an assault on its inhabitants.

Confident as it is in America's resolute support, it will nevertheless not want to be the first big headache for the incoming administration of president-elect Barack Obama.

That means there is not much more than a week for the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) to prove that it has decisively eliminated the offensive capabilities of Hamas and other militant groups in the Gaza Strip.

As this was being written, missiles were still being fired into Israel from locations close to its border with Gaza. The more often this happens, the more some will see the militants as victors and Israel as simply incompetent.

The second loser is likely to be Fatah, which is compromised by its commitment to continue with business as normal in the West Bank, which it governs with US assistance and Israeli support.

Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) and chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, has been weakened. His opponents claim Abbas' term of office has already expired, and he himself threatened in mid-December to call a general election. His chances, and the prospects for moderate Palestinian politicians, are likely to have been damaged by the events of the past three weeks.

The third loser is the government of Egypt, which has been accused of colluding with the Israelis in the attack on Gaza. Now aged 80, President Mubarak has staked his entire career on the promise that Israel would at some point compromise. Images of dead, wounded and apparently malnourished Gazans suggest to growing numbers of Egyptians that he has been wrong.

The fourth losers are countries that have invested political capital in the Annapolis process, launched in November 2007 to fast-track Arab-Israel negotiations. President Bush said then that he wanted to secure a comprehensive settlement by the end of last year. But instead of moving more quickly to peace, the region has been sucked into a new cycle of violence.

Are there any winners? Some believe that if Hamas survives the Gaza war, it will be a victory for Iran. But Tehran's involvement, other than rhetorically, is a matter of dispute.

It seems at least as likely that critical support for Gaza militants has come from sympathisers in Arab and other states rather than from Iran. The Gaza war has, nevertheless, distracted attention from Tehran's nuclear programme.

The UN has looked feeble and the EU divided. French President Sarkozy has been given the opportunity to be a statesman, but this may only last until Barack takes office.

Some observers argue that Turkey, the only country in the region with good relations with both Israel and its neighbours, is poised to secure a role in the region that it has not had since 1918. It is probably, however, too soon to say whether this is a real possibility.

Hamas may claim victory. But there are no prizes for an organisation that has lost some of its leaders and that may now be divided between those who want Gaza to become a cauldron and others calling for economic development and an end to violence.

The sad conclusion is that this is a war that no one will win and where everyone is probably a loser. There could hardly be a more complete advertisement of the futility of violence. But there are none so blind as those that will not see. At least there will soon be a new set of eyes in the White House.

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