Monday, November 19, 2012

Diplomats Try to End Israel-Gaza Conflict

At the Wall Street Journal:

The five-day conflict between Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers reached its deadliest point yet, as diplomats in Cairo and elsewhere tried to forestall an Israeli ground invasion that would lead to a far bloodier battle.

An Israeli envoy traveled to Cairo, where he met briefly with Egyptian security officials, as Hamas and other regional powers met for cease-fire talks whose outcome will help determine whether the thousands of troops Israel is massing along the Gazan border will be ordered to enter the coastal enclave.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday that "the Israeli military is prepared to significantly expand the operation." Israel's military has already called up 40,000 reservists, in addition to its regular standing army of about 175,000, and said it could yet call up another 35,000.

The conflict saw its most violent day yet, lending greater urgency to the cease-fire talks, as Israeli missiles killed 30 Palestinians and Gazan militants fired dozens of rockets deep into Israel, whose defense system destroyed two of them headed toward Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

Israel faces the painful decision of whether to launch a ground offensive, which would likely raise casualties on both sides, risk international reproach and further inflame a region already confronting a civil war in Syria and widespread unrest.

The U.S. and Britain both reiterated their support for Israel's right to defend itself against Palestinian rocket fire on Sunday, but both countries also warned against a ground attack, suggesting the robust Western support Israel has enjoyed so far may not last if it invades.

"My message to all of them was that Israel has every right to expect that it does not have missiles fired onto its territory," President Barack Obama said during a visit to Thailand. "If that can be accomplished without the ramping up of military activity in Gaza that's preferable. That's not just preferable for the people of Gaza. It's also preferable for Israelis, because if Israeli troops are in Gaza, they're much more at risk of fatalities or being wounded."

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke with top officials in Egypt, France, Qatar and Turkey this weekend in an effort to end the hostilities, her office said.

In Cairo, the leaders of Qatar, Egypt, Turkey and Hamas are aiming for an ambitious cease-fire proposal aimed at ending the cycle of violence in Gaza once and for all by convincing Israel to end the blockade of the coastal strip it enforces to keep out arms and materiel.

"After this aggression, I think the cost for achieving any cease-fire should be higher than the normal things," said Ahmed Youssef, an adviser to Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. "The minimum people would like to have is a cease-fire that would end the siege of Gaza."

Israel is looking for a cease-fire deal that brings it more than a brief window of calm before rocket fire resumes again. It also wants Hamas to take responsibility for the security situation in Gaza, allowing Israel to hold Hamas responsible for any attacks, said a person close to the negotiations in Cairo.
Israel will go in on the ground. It's only a matter of when.