The growing outcry has exposed the United States to criticism that it has not done enough to press Israel to agree to a cease-fire. The conflict has also created a wedge in relations with officials in Egypt and Turkey and highlighted the limits of U.S. influence in the aftermath of the revolutions that swept the region last year.
Against this backdrop, President Obama on Tuesday escalated U.S. involvement in trying to resolve the conflict, dispatching Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to meet with officials in Israel, the West Bank and Egypt. She leaves for the region from Phnom Penh, where she took part in the East Asia Summit with Obama.
Since the United States does not have relations with Hamas, however, Clinton is scheduled to meet in Ramallah with West Bank Palestinian leaders who are on the sidelines of the Gaza crisis, leaving it unclear how much she can hope to achieve.
Hours before Clinton was due to arrive in Israel, police and ambulances were called to the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv after a man attacked a guard, witnesses said.
Mickey Rosenfeld, a spokesman for the Israel Police said a 40-year-old Tel Aviv man armed with a knife and an ax attacked a guard at the U.S. embassy at approximately 11:30 a.m. The guard, who was “lightly injured,” fired “warning shots,” Rosenfeld said, but no one else was wounded.
Neither the new Islamist government in Egypt nor the established one in Turkey has succeeded in persuading Hamas to cease firing rockets from Gaza into Israel. Jordan — like Egypt, a traditional lever of U.S. influence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — has similarly been unable or unwilling to persuade Hamas militants to stand down.
An Egyptian official on Monday expressed frustration with the role played so far by the United States, which has made no attempt to publicly urge Israel to rein in its airstrikes.
The United States has the most sway with Israel of any “country on Earth,” said the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing negotiations. “The Israelis would not listen easily to any other voice.”
The Obama administration has pleaded for all sides to “deescalate” but has criticized only Hamas. Ahead of Clinton’s visit to the region, all high-level U.S. diplomacy has been conducted from afar, including phone calls Monday from Obama to Morsi and to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.