PARIS – During a visit to the Middle East, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates warned that enemies of the United States should not use the power vacuum there to try to alter the status quo or to undermine the new American president’s objectives. But the major challenge in this respect is now coming, ironically enough, from America’s main ally in the region, Israel.
Hardliners in Israel naturally regret the end of the Bush administration, for they know that, even if President Barack Obama does not dramatically change US policy toward Israel once he assumes power, he will not repeat Bush’s unconditional support.
Israeli hardliners saw the “war on terror” and the war in Iraq as their wars, supported Bush’s war-like rhetoric and isolation of Iran, and considered the neo-conservatives their ideological kin. In particular, they shared the neo-cons’ conviction that military intervention is a legitimate and effective way of achieving political change. This is what the Israeli government tried to achieve in Lebanon by “smashing Hezbollah” in 2006. Now it is trying to do the same in Gaza.
In response to Hamas rockets, Israel is now using disproportionate force, just as it did in Lebanon. The result will probably be the same: at the end of the campaign, Hamas will have increased its popularity in Palestine and in the Arab world. Indeed, the current military operation follows Israel’s two-year blockade of Gaza, which was supposed to have damaged Hamas, but failed to do so.