Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Hamas Militant Leader is Dead...Now What?

EDIT 11:35am: This article from BBC published today refers to an internal position piece Israeli Foreign Minister Lieberman describing a unilateral effort by Israel to "topple" Palestinian President Abbas should the Palestinian bid at the U.N. for non-member state status be approved. Has the "toppling" process already begun?

It was reported earlier today that Israel had killed the leader of the militant wing of Hamas, the Palestinian governing party, a major milestone for Israel and a major setback for Palestine. Shin Bet, the Israeli domestic intelligence agency, claimed responsibility for airstrike that killed Ahmed Al-Jaabari, the Hamas leader. Considering the length and severity of the bellicosity between Israel and Palestine, this is seen as a significant military triumph for Israel. However, the repercussions for both sides are enormous - with the tumultuous landscape all over the Middle East right now, there has never been a more dangerous brink of war between the two.

Of course, Israel and Palestine have had military engagement in the past. In 2008 and 2009, shelling across the border over the course of three weeks resulted in almost 1,500 deaths between the two. Since then, there have been virtually ceaseless smaller conflicts and disagreements that keep the two pitted against one another: most notably (and disconcerting) was an episode this past August in which several Israeli children - the youngest was a 13-year-old girl - viciously beat a group of Palestinian children in a crowded square, so badly that one of the Palestinians was taken to the hospital unconscious. Police reports indicated that many Israelis stood around the altercation simply watching, while the authorities were not once alerted.

Hamas has seen a slight advantage in the past year or so as President Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood party have taken office in neighboring Egypt. Sharing extreme Islamic views and opinions, Hamas has been able to rely on Egypt as an ally to some degree, further alienating Israel in its already precarious situation in the Middle East. However, Egypt has been pushing towards a truce between the two in past months, and seemed close to producing some results as recently as a few weeks ago.

Egypt's efforts, it appears, will not be fruitful. Hamas has already called for retaliation on Israel, and will have no shortage of support from Palestinian citizens. It is unclear what role the U.S. will play in this, but given his recent re-election, President Obama will surely be engaging the two in productive dialogue as soon as possible in an effort to calm the brewing storm. With Israel having shelled Syria in retaliation for cross-border violence in the past several days, and the ongoing tensions between the U.S. and Iran, the last thing President Obama and Secretary Clinton need is a conflict to erupt in Israel, thrusting the entire region into a violent tailspin. For now, it is too soon to tell, but Israel has symbolically thrown down the gauntlet, and now Hamas will be looking to follow suit.

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