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Posting yesterday VDH asked, “When should Israel stop?” Good question. He suggests that it will be at the moment when the Israelis believe “there is a good chance the rockets will stop.” Perhaps, but if that’s right, it implies that the current exercise will be going on for a very long time indeed, something that is not, I suspect, in the wider strategic interests of the United States.

We shouldn’t be in any doubt of the fact that the civilian dead of Gaza will be used as a recruiting device by Jihadists across the Islamic world, and we shouldn’t be in any doubt that America will be blamed almost as much as Israel for their deaths. You might argue (and I’d agree with you) that Hamas bears much of the responsibility for the lives that have been lost, but you can be absolutely sure that this is an argument that will be neither heard nor even made in, say, the madrassas of Pakistan or Indonesia, two countries that are also of critical importance to the security of the United States.

There are those who take some hope from the relatively lukewarm support that Hamas has so far received from much of the ‘official’ Arab world in the course of the current fighting. That lack of enthusiasm apparently flows from distrust of Iran as well as anxiety over what Hamas’ electoral success might signal for the legitimacy and staying power of the authoritarian regimes that now run most of the region. Nevertheless we shouldn’t fool ourselves. Popular, as opposed to elite, opinion in the region appears to be broadly supportive of Hamas, a support that will grow the longer the current fighting drags on. In the end, if the region’s rulers feel that they have to go along (however insincerely) with that sentiment, they will do so (feebly or maybe not so feebly), something that must imply a still greater distancing from the United States.

None of this is to claim that there is an easy answer to this situation. There isn’t. But it does raise another question that VDH did not pose in that post: When is it in America’s interest for the fighting to stop? That then raises a second question: what, if anything, the U.S. should be doing about it.



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