"... Once again the Obama Administration is facing the prospect of dealing with an all-out invasion of Gaza by Israel, as it prepares to gear up for governing. As with Israel’s “Cast Lead” attack in January 2009 when Obama first took office, this round of fighting has been precipitated by several months of increased rocket attacks by Hamas and other allied groups, notably Palestinian Islamic Jihad (“PIJ”), which many analysts consider under the influence of Iran. And it takes place against a backdrop of a vastly changed Middle East. One that increases the leverage of Hamas. The most important change is in Egypt, where the Moslem Brotherhood, of which Hamas is an off-shoot, holds power. In Syria, war rages threatening stability of Jordan, the only other Arab country to have a peace treaty with Israel.
But according to US officials, the Netanyahu government appears, so far, to take these changes into account. “They seemed to have learned some lessons from the last time around,” says one veteran US analyst. As a result, there is no private anger at Netanyahu and public statements strongly backing Israel have come not only from Washington but London and even (to a somewhat lesser extent) Paris. All appreciate that the Israelis are holding back on a full scale assault, hoping instead that the use of precision guided missiles (aka. as 'assassinations from the air') and the threat of invasion will be enough to intimidate Hamas. However, as one veteran analyst pointed out today, “These things have a way of getting out of hand in the Middle East.”There is a clear recognition that the changed Middle East, especially since the uprising in Syria, has prompted radical forces such as Hezbollah, Iran and Palestinian groups like PIJ to try to turn the attention of the newly empowered Arab population throughout the region to press their governments to take a harder line against any Israeli military action. In that way, it could take some of the pressure off of Syria’s embattled regime. The most dramatic evidence of effectiveness of this approach was the visit today to Gaza of Egyptian Prime Minister, Hesham Kandil. But last thing (his boss) Morsi wants is his hand forced by Hamas,” says one veteran US analyst. This new crisis between Israelis and Palestinians only further complicates Administration policy making at a time when the proverbial “window” for dealing with increasing troubles in the region seems about to close. Until the Gaza situation erupted, US policy makers were already struggling to keep up with fast moving events having to do with Syria’s war and the need to speed up the negotiating process over Iran’s nuclear program. Earlier this week, US, European and Arab diplomats finally hammered out an agreement in Doha, to create a unified opposition to the Assad regime in Syria. Nearly ninety per cent of the opposition groups have joined this new umbrella organization, which one European diplomat described as the “last, best chance” to influence the course of events in Syria. While US diplomats, notably former Ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, were active in Doha, it was France that most strongly endorsed the new umbrella organization. ...On Iran, while the time line may be as short as that for Syria [A need to produce progress before the end of the year], European and American officials are working in concert and share the same sense of urgency. The so-called “P-5+1” (US, Britain, France, Russia China and Germany) who have presented a solid front in negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, are now preparing for a major push over the next six weeks. Before meeting with Iran, the P-5+1 will have its own internal discussions. The expectation is that they will then invite Iran to a sit-down where a formal proposal will be presented. However, US officials insist this proposal will differ in no significant way in ones already given Iran (most recently in Baghdad in May). “We are not going to offer any “grand bargain” insists one well-informed US official. Instead, Iran will be given a list of incentives, notably a lessening of the current economic sanctions, in exchange for major concessions by Iran regarding its nuclear development. “The Iranian response will test whether they are serious about negotiating,” (yawn, yawn...) says one well-placed official. “But I must say I am not optimistic.”...."