A major military conflict that only promises to escalate has erupted between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, prompting Egypt to recall its ambassador to Israel and presenting President Obama with a first post-election foreign policy test.
The developments are serious. In a region destabilized by Syria’s convulsions, Jordanian protests and Egyptian uncertainty, Israel essentially declared war today with Palestinian-controlled Gaza, a war that some fear could have wide-reaching impacts. (Note: since Gaza is not a nation state, no formal declaration occurs.)
In short, this is what has occurred: with rockets falling from Gaza, Israel today assassinated a top Hamas commander, bombed dozens of targets (with many innocents killed) and called up its reservists in preparation for an expanded campaign the IDF is calling "Operation Pillar of Defense."
The targeted killing of Ahmed Jabari, who was behind the 2006 kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, was more than just another extrajudicial killing. It was the killing of someone Barak Ravid calls “Netanyahu’s Osama bin Laden.” It was the killing of a top Hamas leader that promises intense responses, making it just the beginning.
The IDF released video footage of the targeted assassination, celebrated its success quite starkly and warned of more to come:
This sudden and escalating situation presents President Obama with his first chance to weigh in on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in his second term, and is the first (new) foreign policy situation to which he will be compelled to respond.
IDF released video of drone strike on Ahmed Jabari, head of Hamas military wing
Ahmed Jabari: Eliminated. twitter.com/IDFSpokesperso…— IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) November 14, 2012
We recommend that no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead.— IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) November 14, 2012
The question is: what will that response look like?
In his first term, despite a chilly relationship with Netanyahu, Obama was consistent in his defense of Israel’s right to employ targeted drone strikes and use military force against Palestinians, particularly in Gaza.
Some considered such stances as the product of Obama’s electoral concerns. With the election over, we are about to learn whether Israel’s escalation into a possible, full-scale war will elicit condemnation from the White House or approval.
It’s worth noting that, in 2002, when Israel assassinated a top Hamas terrorist, Sheikh Salah Shehada – a move that destroyed a burgeoning cease-fire and destabilized the region – President Bush voiced his rare, public disapproval. He called the move “heavy-handed” and critiqued Israel for doing nothing more than moving away from peace.
Now, ten years later, how will President Obama respond. What role with the U.S. play in this burgeoning crisis?
We’ll soon find out.
If the State Department's release is any indication, Obama may retain his distanced approach to Middle East peace.