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Ceasefire in Israel-Hamas War

The timing for a crisis could not be worse for the new Egyptian regime. It has not yet tamed its army, finished writing its constitution, or established the legitimacy of the parliament it dominates. At the precise time the war started, the Egyptian government was completing negotiations that can be expected to bring it almost $10 billion in aid from the European Union, International Monetary Fund, and United States. Whatever Egypt does in the future, it does not want trouble from Israel at present. Israel had also earlier reassured the Cairo regime that it would support an amendment in their thirty-year-old peace treaty that would allow Egypt to station more troops in the eastern Sinai. The number wouldn't be enough to threaten Israel but enough to help control the Salafist groups there that have targeted Israel several times in cross-border raids. That is, if Egypt wants to stop them from doing so. At any rate, Egypt faces attacks on itself from some of these groups as well.

Israel's motives included ending attacks on its civilian population which caused few fatalities but had a tremendously disrupting psychological and economic effect. The truth is that Israel's population, while overwhelmingly supporting the war, evinced more fear about the attacks than in earlier conflicts. The ability of Hamas to fire missiles toward Tel Aviv and Jerusalem -- though this was partly a bluff since these missiles were almost emptied of explosives to get a longer range -- set off concerns, especially in Tel Aviv. The Iron Dome system worked very well in shooting down a high percentage of the rockets outside the far south.

But Israel's most realistic interests -- though not its preferences -- were reached by agreeing to a ceasefire now. There was international, and especially U.S., pressure to  avoid a ground attack which meant that the limit of its military gains using only air power had been already attained. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to develop the best possible relationship with newly reelected President Barack Obama, with whom he will probably be dealing with -- assuming Netanyahu's reelection on January 22 -- for the next four years.

Equally important was that Israeli leaders -- and public opinion generally agrees -- know that a temporary ceasefire is the best outcome that can be obtained. A very large portion of Hamas's weapons, especially longer-range missiles, has been destroyed and it will take Hamas time to rebuild. While people can come up with ideal solutions in their heads, the problem is that Israel does not want to return to rule the Gaza Strip (which would involve armed battles almost daily) and does not have international support for overthrowing Hamas.

In a reasonable world, the international community would support, even join in, bringing down the current regime and replacing it with the Palestinian Authority. After all, Hamas staged an armed coup and chased out its Fatah rivals, killing many of them brutally. It then openly declared its intentions to commit genocide against Israel and Jews generally; staged a constant series of terror attacks; forced out the small Christian population; let al-Qaeda-affiliated groups operate; and systematically taught children to grow up to be terrorists and suicide bombers.

Instead, however, the international community is determined to protect the survival of the Hamas regime, and the Palestinian Authority would not take back rule over the Gaza Strip, either by its own efforts to overthrow Hamas or at the hands of a victorious Israeli army. If the war continued, some more Hamas leaders would be killed and munitions would be destroyed. But that additional benefit would be limited. At the same time, more civilians would be killed on both sides and the relatively positive international support and mild media criticism -- by the usual standards, of course -- would dissipate.

Of course, everyone knows that this ceasefire won't last. The key to anything more durable is if the Egyptian government decides that it wants to avoid another war because of its own interests. In other words, despite its hard line toward Israel, would the Brotherhood regime decide that it wanted to consolidate its rule over Egypt -- totally transform the army; Islamize the society; and suppress Christians, women and secularist -- before taking on Israel? Can it create a repressive regime and fight a jihad simultaneously or does it need to take on these tasks one at a time? By helping to broker the ceasefire, the Egyptian regime has also won points with the Obama administration that should bring it benefits in future.

Thus is the twisted situation characterizing contemporary Middle East politics and U.S. policy.

(Thumbnail on PJM homepage based on a modified Shutterstock.com image.)