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Gaza Saga

Today’s infiltration of terrorists from Gaza into Israel is another reminder — as if one was needed — that Hamas and its regional patrons continue to drive events, not the other way around. The incursion at Nachal Oz appears to have been an abduction attempt, and comes amidst recent threats from Hamas that another border breach, into either Egypt or Israel, may soon be attempted.

All of this is prelude to a serious showdown between Hamas and the IDF; war, not diplomacy, continues to be the engine of history in the Middle East. Someone who understands this is Jackson Diehl of the Washington Post, who on Monday laid out some very basic realities in his column.

He says Israeli leaders have been quietly informing Washington that a showdown with Hamas is coming soon to a television screen near you, and that the peace process will not survive it:

The grim Israeli view is driven to a large degree by what officials say is the massive and continuing smuggling of weapons into Gaza, sponsored by Iran and tacitly allowed by Egypt, which despite considerable pressure from Washington shrinks from actions that might trigger its own confrontation with Hamas. . . .

Bush and Rice would like Israel to hold off against Hamas until Olmert can complete an agreement on principles for a final Israeli-Palestinian settlement with Abbas. While Olmert still wants that deal, it’s become increasingly clear to the Israelis that an Abbas-led government will never be able to implement it. Despite extensive international aid, the West Bank Palestinian administration remains little more than a shell kept in power by Israel’s troops. Hamas, the Israelis say, can stop the peace process at any time by resuming missile attacks against Ashkelon. . . .

But what concerns some Israelis is the lack of readiness by the Bush administration for the possibility that its drive for Mideast peace will be overwhelmed by a Mideast war.

I would add that not only will the peace process be overwhelmed by war in Gaza, but so will the political saliency of Mahmoud Abbas — and indeed of any western-approved Palestinian leader. Abbas today is a walking anachronism. If there is real progress in the peace process, Hamas and Iran will unleash violence and the ensuing battle will force Abbas to suspend negotiations; if Israel tries to negotiate with Hamas, his credibility will be fatally undermined; if he negotiates with Hamas, he will face abandonment from the U.S. and Israel; if a prisoner exchange for Gilad Shalit is accomplished, he will be shown among the Palestinians to be even weaker opposite Hamas than he already looks.

The important questions now revolve around Israeli dealings with the Bush administration over the timing and nature of war in Gaza. Will it commence on Israel’s initiative, or on Hamas’s? And what will Condi Rice have to say about it?



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