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Bring In the Diplomats

Author: Richard N. Haass, President, Council on Foreign Relations
January 19, 2009


It is more a question of when than if there will be another ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. Even as fighting raged late last week, the outlines of one were clear. Hamas will agree to stop firing rockets into Israel; the Israelis will pull back their forces from Gaza. New measures will slow but not stop the smuggling of arms from Egypt into Gaza.

What will Israel have accomplished then? It will have demonstrated that Hamas cannot shell Israeli territory with impunity, and that Israel is not bound by rules of proportionality. Hamas will be weaker militarily. Several leaders have been killed along with a large number of fighters, and its ability to produce and launch rockets is diminished. In the process, Israel's armed forces have restored some of their reputation, which had lost considerable luster after the unsuccessful campaign against Hizbullah in 2006. Iran, the principal patron of both Hamas and Hizbullah and the greatest regional threat to Israel, may no longer think Israel is a helpless giant.

But attacking Hamas has had the contradictory effect of strengthening its reputation as the main arm of Palestinian resistance. And images of what Israeli weapons in some instances did to innocent Palestinians has forfeited sympathy for Israel and made it more difficult for moderate Arab governments to normalize relations with the country. A ceasefire will prove to be little more than a break between rounds of warfare if something is not done to change the dynamics between Israel and its neighbors.


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