Trend Middle East Desk Commentator Ulviyya Sadikhova
A year has passed since the start of the Israeli military operation "Cast Lead" in the Gaza Strip in response to Hamas' rocket attacks. The mission showed the international community's failure to reach a comprehensive peace agreement.
Cast Lead was launched to put an end to Hamas' domination, but the operation almost coincided with U.S. President Barack Obama's coming to power and change of government in Israel.
When in December 2008, Israel began air attacks from central Gaza Strip, the country's Defense Ministry was confident of U.S. support despite the U.N. criticism. The administration of former U.S. President George Bush, which became a curse for the Middle East, justified the actions of the Israeli army until his last day in office, although in the first three days roughly 500 people died. At an urgent U.N. Security Council meeting, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice abstained from adopting a resolution calling for an end to the military actions, explaining that Israel was protecting its own citizens from "Hamas terrorists."
An interesting fact is cited in a recent joint report of 16 international human rights organizations, summarizing the humanitarian disaster in the Gaza Strip as a result of Israeli bombing. The report states that "Israel's responsibility to the safety of its citizens does not entitle it to punish every man, woman and child in the Gaza Strip. "
In general, Cast Lead was like a "Bush's goodbye kiss" because it ended Jan. 19 when Obama moved into the White House.
Although Obama has not spoken out officially against Cast Lead, he is the first president to have an altered stance on Israel since Jimmy Carter. Carter made solving the Middle East conflict a priority in his administration's new foreign policy.
However, Obama's ambitions to take a step forward in the peace process, which have not yet wound up in a stalemate, faced Benjamin Netanyahu's election as president in Israel. Netanyahu leads a government of right-wing views. He did not wish to continue negotiations with the Palestinians on the same terms. Although Cast Lead was supported by Israeli society, he failed to guarantee victory to its organizers in the February elections, including former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. While each of them used military attacks to gain the electorate's support, backed by political and public support, Netanyahu became the leader in the February elections.
Olmert, who resigned in September 2008, because of allegations of corruption and fraud, under any circumstances, had no chance to be reelected and did not even put forward his candidacy. Despite Foreign Minister Livni left Netanyahu behind by one vote in the elections, failed to form the coalition government headed by the centrist Kadima. But the defense minister Barak, leader of the Labor Party and one of the major modern military strategists of Israel, got scanty 13 seats during the elections. It showed how public opinion of Israel has changed from the last elections in 2006. Ten years later, Netanyahu once again became Prime Minister. It confused President Obama's plans on successful peace process. President Obama faced with the refusal of the Netanyahu Government from stopping construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank under the "road map" of 2003 at the first request.
Tension occurred in the relations between Israel and the U.S., which were considered a model of strategic partnership. Obama's administration, which was represented in the Middle East by experienced diplomat George Mitchell, insisted Israel to stop settlement activity and to recognize an independent Palestinian state coexisting with Jews in peace.
But Netanyahu, who was to reap the fruits of "Cast lead", supported the creation of a Palestinian state only after improving the economic situation in the West Bank and transfer of security control of Palestinian territories to the Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas. Moreover, if relations with Washington were not undermined from inside, despite disagreements over settlements, 22-day-attack on the enclave, which killed nearly 1,600 Palestinians and 13 Israelis, have cost Israel a strategic and military partnership with the principal and the only Muslim ally - Turkey.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's public accusation Israeli President of killing Palestinian children in the Gaza Strip at an economic forum in Davos was the first feature in a long chain of Ankara's disputes with the Israeli leadership. Later Turkey's refusal from military exercises with the Israeli Air Force was made. Ankara regards it as a new threat to the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip. Despite the optimism of Israel and Turkey to maintain a strategic partnership in spite of political differences, relations between the two countries will never be the same. Certainly, it is a loss for Israel because Turkey was always a link to the Muslim world for Israel both in solving the conflict with the Arab countries (negotiations with Syria with the mediation of Ankara), as well as in military cooperation, particularly, amid increased threat of an Iranian attack on Israel.
"Cast Lead" melted not only the Turkish-Israeli relations, but also forced Israel to feel the threat before the international criminal court. Announcement of the results of the South African Judge Richard Goldstone's investigation, that Israel's actions in the Gaza Strip have been nothing but war crimes tormented everybody. Goldstone's report, who backed up a similar report of Amnesty International, showed that in a military operation in the Gaza Strip Israel has moved beyond the defense of its citizens from rocket attacks, for example, used illegal phosphorous bombs that killed Palestinian civilians. "Cast Lead" affected the relations between Israel and the EU.
In early 2009 several European countries stated about reduction of relations between Israel and the Union because of the breakdown of peace talks amid continued settlement activities and the preservation of the blockade of the Gaza Strip. Moreover, the former EU High Representative Javier Solana expressed the need to establish a time frame for the establishment of a Palestinian state if the peace process gives no results. Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt put a final point stating that East Jerusalem was fixed for a future Palestinian state.
Though Israel was able to maintain cooperation with the U.S. and to convince Obama not to cease settlement construction as the condition to launch talks, "Cast Lead" did not give expected results for Israel: Hamas still controls the Gaza Strip, and holds Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in capture, despite the economic blockade of the enclave. "Cast Lead" put an end to rocket attacks on Israel for Hamas. The political and military influence is more important for Hamas rather than the international image, as the movement has a status of a terrorist organization in many European countries and the U.S..
2009 was ineffectual for the Arab-Israeli armistice if it did not diminish the chance for peace. All attempts for Israelis to resume negotiations with the Palestinians and Syrians were unsuccessful. But in early 2010 results of further negotiations to release Shalit will be known. It is very important for Israel to avoid the second unequal deal to exchange prisoners, as it was in 2008 with Hezbollah. That time Israel received two coffins with bodies of captured soldiers instead of releasing former terrorist Samir Kunatru. Defense Minister Ehud Barak, commenting on the governmental recent discussions on Shalit, said that Israel must return Shalit home, but not at any price.
It is not ruled out that the U.S. will begin a new year with the promotion of a new strategy for the Middle East settlement, as according to observers the current situation can result in military clashes at any time.
The West is also concerned about the strengthening of the position of the Palestinian militant movements, especially Hamas. During the celebration of the 21-st anniversary of the movement a lot of Palestinians gathered in a meeting in the Gaza Strip.
"Cast Lead" has caused a lot of trouble for Israel, including diplomatic scandals, pressure from the international community, reports on charges in war crimes, the tightening positions of the Islamic countries and the Palestinian Authority. Therefore, if Israel begins a new military operation, as predicted by analysts, this time it will act more tactfully, so as not to repeat past mistakes.