02/01/2009

Regional implications of the conflict in Gaza

Press review – week from Dec.30, 2008 to Jan.02, 2009

At the start of Operation “Cast Lead”, Israel did not seem to care much about the impact it could have on regional balances and its relations with its Middle Eastern neighbours with whom the Hebrew state had maintained peaceful relations. Putting Egypt in an uncomfortable situation, Israel did not consider the impact that its offensive would have on Turkey and Syria, endangering the prospects for peace that had seemed to emerge recently.

First, the Israeli operation upon Gaza has put an end to the “honeymoon period” in Turkish-Israeli relations and Prime Minister Olmert’s good relationship with his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, says Haaretz. The two leaders had become closer thanks to Ankara’s mediation between Israel and Syria. Since Operation Cast Lead began, the relations between the two countries have deteriorated. A day after the offensive began, Erdogan, talking about Olmert declared « He betrayed me and harmed the honour of Turkey », reported this Israeli newpaper. Erdogan advisers, who participated in the Syria talks, expressed frustration and disappointment at Israel’s actions: « We were so close to direct talks, and this operation ruined everything. » Besides, Ankara rejected an offer from Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni several days ago to visit the Turkish capital. « If she doesn’t want to talk about a cease-fire, she shouldn’t come, » was the official response.
Second, the third participant to this peace process, Syria, has also decided to reconsider its relations and negotiations with Israel, condemning the recent hopes concerning the Golan issue.

The indirect peace talks between Syria and Israel can not continue because of « the Israeli aggression » against the Gaza Strip, said a Syrian official to the AFP. « This Israeli aggression […] closes the door to any action in the political process between Syria and Israel”, he added, while, as said Le Monde, the French president, called on Syria to put pressure on Hamas for a return of peace in the Gaza Strip. « I am convinced that Syria can play an important role in finding a solution. The President Assad can play a role. He has to “convince Hamas to make the choice of reason, peace and reconciliation between the divided Palestinians” he said.
Third, in parallel to the collapse of Israel’s relations with Turkey and Syria, the offensive upon Gaza led to a very tense situation in Egypt, placing the government in a state of deadlock between on the one hand Israel and the USA whith whom the regime has good relations and who provides financial aid, and on the other hand, the Arab public opinion. Since the beginning of the Israeli operation, criticism is increasing on Egypt from the other Arab States. In Beirut as in Aden, demonstrators protesting against the Israeli bombing have targeted Egyptian diplomatic representations.

The New York Times explains that Egypt is the crucial intermediary between Israel and Hamas, which is no great friend of this moderate secular government. However, anger from the Egyptian population against its government’s relative silence about Israel’s bombing campaign, its Palestinian victims and with the apparent lack of diplomatic pressure from Cairo on Israel and the United States to stop the fight can be noticed. Indeed, government officials have blamed Hamas for abandoning the cease-fire with Israel and seeming to seek Israeli retaliation. As the New York Times highlights, Mr. Mubarak, has negotiated the complicated issues of regional security, solidifying its relationship with Washington, maintaining correct ties with Israel and fighting Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism. But he is now facing a delicate balancing act, said Abdel Moneim Said, director of the Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo.
What now endangers the Egyptian stability is a widespread belief that Egypt was complicit in the Israeli attacks. This idea stemmed from a visit to Cairo by the Israeli foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, the day before the assault began, recalled the NY Times.