“The general lesson is that missile defense is effective, it can work,” said Uzi Rubin, the former head of Israel’s missile defense program. “But Iron Dome has nothing to do with threats from Iran.”
But when it comes to Iran, retaining diplomatic legitimacy throughout the Gaza operation was most important to Netanyahu, analysts said.
At the United Nations in September, Netanyahu suggested that the window for a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities was open until spring or summer, and Israel has recently given more credence to the idea that sanctions might pressure Iran to negotiate. The Israeli security establishment and public are strongly against an Israeli attack on Iran without U.S. backing, meaning that the idea is “more and more discredited,” said Meir Javedanfar, who teaches Iranian politics at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel.
Even more important, he said, is that Hamas, an Islamist movement that Israel and many Western countries label a terrorist organization, has moved away from Iran over the latter’s support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. By backing a cease-fire brokered by Islamist Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, Israel and the United States endorsed the Egypt-Israel alliance and Hamas’s pivot away from Iran’s Shiite bloc toward a widening Sunni orbit in the post-Arab Spring Middle East.
“It’s bad for Iran if Hamas is turning to Egypt and not to Iran,” said an Obama administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive diplomatic negotiations.
As Israel emerges from a rally-around-the-flag week and resumes the campaign season, Netanyahu is likely to face criticism for the cease-fire and securing what are by no means long-term gains against Hamas. Shaul Mofaz, head of the Kadima opposition party, said Hamas “got stronger.” Another opposition candidate, Yair Lapid, accused the government of “weakness.”
Giora Eiland, a retired major general and former national security adviser, said that what looks like a victory for Hamas might not be bad for Israel and Netanyahu if the rockets in southern Israel stop. Even the vaguely worded cease-fire agreement of “opening the crossings and facilitating the movement of people” — an apparent reference to easing Egypt’s and Israel’s partial blockades on the strip — might lead to more Egyptian monitoring of weapons flows into Gaza and foreign investment in the coastal enclave. The latter would give Hamas reason to restrain smaller militant factions and avoid confrontations with Israel, Eiland said.
“As far as Israel is concerned, we like this Hamas interest,” Eiland said. “It is better that the perception of Gaza is not considered an area of no man’s land that is controlled by militias.”
Then again, many Palestinians say, loosening Gaza’s southern border with Egypt will only further divide Gazans from Palestinians in the West Bank, which lies on the other side of Israel and is ruled by an authority led by a Hamas rival, Fatah. Their unity is widely viewed as key to a viable peace agreement with Israel and a two-state solution, and the Israeli official interviewed Thursday acknowledged that the Gaza conflict had strengthened Hamas at the expense of the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority.
That might not trouble Netanyahu. Although he says he supports a two-state solution, he has shown scant enthusiasm for peace talks that would lead to one.
Ruth Eglash in Jerusalem, Ernesto Londoño in Tel Aviv and Karen DeYoung in Washington contributed to this report.