Some say the weather was a factor in the Israel-Gaza truce — the looming winter storm would obstruct Israeli airstrikes.
Others point to the limited reserves of Iron Dome interceptors needed to defend against prolonged salvos of Gaza-launched rockets.
The truce certainly stemmed in large part from decisive intervention by U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whose promise of added aid encouraged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi to focus on much more severe challenges threatening their respective security standings.
For Israel, that challenge is Iran.
For Morsi and his 112-day-old Muslim Brotherhood-led government, it’s feeding and sustaining Egypt’s 82.5 million people.
Regardless of the combination of circumstances that compelled Netanyahu to accept the U.S.- and Egyptian-brokered truce Nov. 21 after eight days of largely surgical standoff attacks and without a grueling ground war, Israel’s hawkish leader has earned praise for his restraint. So, too, has Morsi, who demonstrated a religious Islamic regime can provide responsible, regionally stabilizing leadership while remaining loyal to the will of the Arab street.
Much depends on Morsi’s ability to enforce the terms of the truce — particularly halting the smuggling of Iranian weapons through Sinai into Gaza — but the Egyptian showed himself to be a capable broker, sympathetic to Hamas while committed to the peace treaty with Israel.
Undoubtedly, the operational success of Israel’s Iron Dome system played a major role in Israel’s strategy of “brain, not brawn” in combating Gaza-based militants.
Its demonstrated ability to intercept nearly 85 percent of rockets destined for populated areas had a calming effect on the 2 million citizens in range, muted demands for a ground invasion, and gave Netanyahu the breathing room to calculate costs versus benefits of truce terms.
But despite the “game-changing” contribution of Iron Dome, Hamas and other more extreme Iran-backed groups in the Strip retain thousands of rockets in their arsenals. The threat compounds exponentially when the more accurate, lethal and longer-range missiles of Lebanon-based Hezbollah and nuclear-aspiring Iran are factored in. And Israel’s enemies can launch rockets in volumes that would force Israel into an expensive counter-fight.
With Israeli elections less than two months away and 1 in 5 Israelis, says a Channel 2 poll, believing Israel lost this latest battle by not pressing the fight, Netanyahu is under enormous pressure to wield greater military might.
This time around, Netanyahu wisely opted to focus on Israel’s greater strategic interest in bolstering international legitimacy and the U.S. support needed for a confrontation with Iran.
By limiting the Gazan death toll through meticulous standoff strikes, Israel denied Iran and its proxies the pretext they sought to inflame regional passions. At the same time, the relatively low casualty rate may ironically work against Israeli deterrence by allowing the other side to claim victory. Now, Washington must redouble efforts to bolster moderation in the region, starting with Israel and Egypt, its two largest recipients of U.S. aid.
Immune from many political constraints he confronted in his first term in office, Obama must maximize the maneuvering room of his second term by reigniting the drive toward a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine.
It’s time for a U.S.-funded diplomatic Iron Dome in active defense of regional security.