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Decision time for Israel

Israel apparently has succeeded in significantly degrading Hamas’ rocket capacity. Hamas continues to launch rockets into southern Israel, but for the first time in several days it launched none of the longer range missiles that can reach Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. Israel’s priority has been to take out these missiles and it seems to be succeeding.

Unfortunately, Hamas is thought to retain thousands of missiles capable of reaching southern Israel. Thus, Israel’s mission is far from accomplished. Moreover, it is unlikely that it can be accomplished through air attacks alone. Therefore, according to the Washington Post, the view in Israel is that the next logical step must be either a meaningful long-tern cease fire agreement or a ground invasion.

But even if a meaningful long-term cease fire were possible in theory, serious practical obstacles would stand in its way. For example, Israel needs, at a minimum, a means of protecting against the importation of new rockets to Hamas. But Hamas is still insisting that Israel end its blocade of Gaza. Meeting that demand would, of course, reduce rather than increase Israel’s ability to protect its citizens against future attacks.

In general, moreover, Hamas is likely to take a hard line, at least in the absence of a successful invastion by Israel. As I noted earlier today, Hamas believes that the “growing clout” of Islamists in the region has tilted the playing field in its favor. We should expect Hamas to put that thesis, and with it Egypt’s new Islamist regime, to the test. And we should expect Egypt, wanting to pass the test, to be extremely reluctant to broker a deal that cannot be portrayed as a victory for Hamas. Meanwhile, Israel can ill-afford to enter into such a deal.

To be sure, Egypt will want to avoid an Israeli invasion of Gaza. After all, an invastion might well send refugees streaming into Egypt, which could destabilize that already troubled nation. And the U.S. is probably pressuring Egypt to get a deal done.

But given the unreasonable stance of Hamas, and the problematic nature of even a reasonable sounding agreement, I doubt that there’s a deal at this point that Israel sensibly can agree to. So its alternatives are a senseless deal or an invasion.

The choice should be easy. The question is whether, behind the scenes, President Obama is trying to make Israel’s decision more difficult. We shouldn’t discount the possibility that Obama will pressure Israel into making the wrong decision.

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