Analysts fear wide-reaching fallout from Israeli strikes on Gaza

November 14, 2012

Gazans try to extinguish fire following an Israeli air strike. (Mohammed Abed -- AFP/Getty Images)

As the Israeli air force launches airstrikes against the Gaza Strip in what it's calling Pillar of Defense, some analysts are already worrying about the potential implications for the region of renewed Israel-Gaza violence. 

Middle East watchers are by temperament a cynical bunch, and their assessments are just predictions, so take them with a grain of salt. But it's worth considering them, both to examine the wider risks should violence increase (the Israeli military has signaled its readiness for a ground invasion "if necessary") and as a reminder of how closely connected these disparate Middle Eastern security and political issues can be.

Egypt's reaction to the violence could be particularly significant as a test of how the new, Muslim Brotherhood-allied government will respond to renewed Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Some analysts have worried that the more populist, democratically elected government now in Cairo could feel compelled to take a tougher line against Israel and on behalf of Palestinians. Egypt's foreign minister has condemned the strikes, as has the Muslim Brotherhood's political party, which announced in a statement, "the state of occupation [Israel] should learn that the changes in the region including Egypt won't allow for putting Palestinians under the brunt of Israeli aggression like in the past."

A number of Egypt watchers in the United States have in the past expressed strong opinions on how the new Egyptian government would handle an Israeli-Gaza crisis. Some argue that the post-revolution Cairo government is so fundamentally different from Hosni Mubarak's that it would be either unwilling or unable to avoid responding somehow; some analysts even worry Egypt may be looking for a pretext to downgrade relations with Israel. Others argue that the fundamentals of the Egypt-Israel relationship secured in the 1979 Camp David Accord are solid, and that cooler heads and rational statesmanship will largely maintain the status quo. So, if and when President Mohamed Morsi does respond (or doesn't), it could tell us much about the foreign policy of the new Egypt.

Middle East watchers are also expressing some concern about Israel's once-solid relationship with Turkey, which has looked a bit more tenuous since a 2010 Gaza-bound aid flotilla ended with an Israeli raid that killed nine Turkish passengers, still a source of consternation in Turkey. Just two days ago, Turkey analyst Michael Koplow worried about what an Israeli strike on Gaza would "do to Turkish-Israeli relations in light of [Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan’s embrace of Hamas and imminent trip to Gaza." In a speech earlier Wednesday, Israeli politician Tzipi Livni warned that Israeli-Turkish "relations are affected by what happens to Palestinians, whether we like it or not," according to Israeli analyst Meir Javedanfar, who was present at the speech. Turkey and Israel have long maintained an important military relationship, which could become more important as violence in Syria escalates.

Even the much-discussed potential opening for direct U.S.-Iran nuclear negotiations could potentially be affected, The New York Times's Tehran-based Thomas Erdbrink warned on Twitter. "While #Iran and #Hamas have been estranged over Syria, Iran's leaders will be highly upset over Jabari's assassination today in Gaza," he wrote. "Forget ANY #Iran-US talks if conflict in Gaza escalates. ... #Iran leaders can never be seen as talking to US, while its 'eternal' ally Israel assassinates Iran's ideological allies." The Washington Post recently reported that Tehran is "locked in internal debate" over the possible U.S. talks, so anything that weakens Iranian advocates for negotiations and exposes them to greater political risk would seem likely to reduce the odds of those talks taking place.

See also: Israeli military and Hamas exchange threats on Twitter

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Max Fisher | November 14, 2012