Five Early Lessons from the Israel-Hamas War

The National Interest - July 14, 2014

Shai Feldman is Judith and Sidney Swartz Director of the Crown Center.

Israel and Hamas are currently locked in an escalating violent confrontation neither sought. As the clash is still ongoing, with no end currently in sight, it is way too early to reach any definitive conclusions about it. The following should therefore be considered as some very preliminary and tentative comments regarding the new crisis and its possible ramifications. Also, as these comments are focused more on the Israeli side than on Hamas, they cannot be considered “balanced.” Their purpose is merely to point to some possible lessons which will require further elaboration and examination once the guns are silenced.

First, the leadership vacuum: No factor is more important in causing this crisis than the weak political leadership of all the relevant parties. In the most recent attempt to reach a negotiated end to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict—that was orchestrated by Secretary of State John Kerry—Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas both proved too weak to make the difficult historic decisions that a deal required. And the Obama administration was equally weak and refrained from exercising the leverage required to compel the parties to reconcile their differences.

In turn, the failure of diplomacy left the arena open to the extremes on both sides to set the agenda and that’s exactly what they did: with a couple of Hamas-affiliated operatives abducting and murdering three Israeli teenagers and with six Israeli extremists taking revenge by murdering a Palestinian teenager. Moreover, the same leadership vacuum that played a major role in causing this eruption of violence has so far also played a role in the absence of any serious effort to deescalate the crisis. The U.S., which under similar circumstances over the past four decades has repeatedly intervened to put out the flames, is now nearly absent. And for completely different reasons, others who traditionally played such a role—first and foremost, Egypt—are currently also keeping a low profile. ... Read the Full Text