“Bibi Netanyahu” has taken over from where Ariel Sharon left off, by presenting a vision of peace that involves a much lower level of concessions from the (stronger) Israeli side than from a fractured Palestinian state. In 1982, Sharon made sure that Israel would be the only country to suffer from terrorism by Shia factions, in contrast to Wahhabi terror groups, who operate across the globe, including prominently in India. This he achieved by giving military and other assistance to Maronite Christian gangs indulging in acts of violence against their Shia neighbours. This columnist is among the numerous friends of Israel who regards this insertion of the Israeli Defense Forces into the Lebanese civil war as a mistake. Netanyahu has based his policies towards the Palestinians on two postulates, which are that (a) the US will support him in whatever he does because of (b) his support base within the conservative side of US politics, both Democratic and Republican. So long as Arab regimes were of a timbre such as would instantly obey any instruction — sorry, request — from Washington, such an assumption did not create any significant danger to the future security of Israel.
The “Arab Spring” of 2011 has removed much of the basis behind the US assumption that its support for Israel would generate nothing other than verbal opposition from governments in the region surrounding Israel. Both Tunisia and Egypt have seen their autocratic (but very sensitive to NATO concerns) rulers replaced with elected leaders who depend on hewing closely with the public mood to survive. And after years of Sharon and now Netanyahu, Arab reaction to Israel is toxic. Now that Gaza is under attack, and is moreover ruled by an offshoot of the selfsame Muslim Brotherhood that now rules Egypt, it would be a safe bet that the Mubarak-era blockades of Gaza, which took place on request by Israel via the US, will not get repeated. The present punishing bombardment of Gaza is likely to generate pressure on Cairo to open the tap into Gaza and ensure that the Hamas-led regime in that sliver of the Palestinian state not any more be starved of what it needs to fend off Israeli attacks. The nature of guerrilla warfare is such that Israel would face a daunting task were Egypt to refuse to enforce a blockade of Gaza, a fact that would be well known to Hamas commanders.
Most probably, it is the shift of the Hamas external headquarters from Damascus to Doha that has given confidence to Netanyahu that the response of Hamas to Israeli bombing would be muted.
What could have impelled the passionate and telegenic Prime Minister of Israel into making the Sharon-style mistake of killing a top Hamas leader, that too when he was engaged in working out the conditions for a comprehensive ceasefire between Israel and Gaza? Most probably, it is the shift of the Hamas external headquarters from Damascus to Doha that has given confidence to Netanyahu that the response of Hamas to Israeli bombing would be muted. It is no secret that Qatar is close to the US, which itself is the closest ally of Israel. Hence, the Israeli Prime Minister probably assumed that a country, which has handed over its security to the US in a way that Israel never has, could be relied on to ensure through its newfound clout with Hamas (whose no doubt generous host it now is) that the organisation hold back from a full-blooded response to Israel’s killing of one of its top commanders, followed by multiple air raids. The difficulty in such an assumption is that any visible effort to rein in Hamas would make the rulers of Qatar vulnerable to a strong reaction from their population, which — as is the entire region — is very negative towards Israel. To expect Qatar to risk its own stability for the sake of Bibi Netanyahu may be an assumption too far for the Israeli PM.