As the most recent episode of the recurring Gaza conflict escalates, the world is in an uproar against Israel and the civilian casualty rate. For the latter, this is rightly so. There is also an increasing fury with America's silence, and president-elect Obama's in particular. What the world can't remember, is that Obama now receives the same intelligence briefing as President Bush, something that can be vaguely summarized as such:
Hamas has 20,000-25,000 armed troops in Gaza, and an established tactic of firing rockets from schools, hospitals, and highly-concentrated civilian areas so that any targeted response results in a high civilian casualty count.
There is a good chance that Syria will come in from the cold in 2009. This has been a quiet rumor that is slowly getting louder. A peace agreement between Israel and Syria that would see the Golan Heights return to Damascus' control in exchange for the cessation of funding/arming Hamas militants would be the biggest step towards peace since the 1973 peace between Israel and Egypt.
Former Iranian President Khatami's political clout is growing, at the expense of current president, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. The president serves at the whim of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. If you don't remember, in 2003 President Khatami unilaterally offered to dismantle the Iranian nuclear program and reach an influence sharing agreement with the United States. This was declined, likely at the behest of Vice President Cheney, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz. With oil prices remaining well below OPEC's desired $80 per barrel, Ahmedinejad will be unable to afford his generous demagogic grant/welfare programs. With any luck, he will be replaced.
This is not to excuse Israel for its sloppy execution of this engagement, costing far too many civilian lives than is reasonable or morally acceptable in pursuit of its goal. At minimum, they should take strides to provide for the medical treatment of women and children wounded in Gaza, perhaps by building a civilian hospital outside of the border. For president-elect Obama, a recommitment to a greater peace should be loud and unequivocal.
The biggest danger at present is that Israel fails to deliver the 'knockout blow' to Hamas, and a further radicalization of the group and territory escalates the conflict. President Bush's legacy was further tarnished by this happening against Hezbollah. Failure to achieve a strategic checkmate on Israel's part would make Obama's silence damning.
But there is hope. If Israel devastates Hamas' military capacity, trades the Golan Heights for peace with Syria, and oil prices change the political winds in Iran, then-president Obama could reap the windfall of success that eluded his two predecessors.