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How Gaza Crisis Is Different From 4 Years Ago


Secretary of State Hillary Clinton won't be hurrying home today, along with the president, but rather she's going to Jerusalem. There, she'll meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, then on to meetings with Palestinians on the West Bank - and then to Cairo. The swirl of diplomatic activity is aimed at brokering a truce between Israel and Gaza. Rockets and missiles continue to fly, today, between Israel and the Hamas militants that now control Gaza.

And to learn more, we turn to David Ignatius. He writes about foreign affairs for his column at The Washington Post. Good morning.

DAVID IGNATIUS: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Now, Israel launched a big offensive, might recall, four years ago. It created a lot of damage, pain on both sides, produced no clear results. What's different about this?

IGNATIUS: So far, you'd have to say not very much. Rockets have continued to fly from Gaza into Israel, creating what Israeli politicians say is an intolerable situation. The Israeli application of limited force doesn't seem to be enough to stop Hamas from allowing those rockets to be launched, so Israel's, again, threatening a ground invasion, which it clearly doesn't want to mount because of the high casualties to, both to Israel and to Gaza.

MONTAGNE: And why did Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu launce this particular offensive at this particular time?

IGNATIUS: Well, Israeli officials say that the trigger for the escalation in the killing of the Hamas defense minister, Jabari, last Wednesday was the step up in Palestinian rocket attacks from Gaza. They say that since the last loose cease fire ended, about 700 rockets have been shot into Israel, and that that led them to take this action. There are other things that we think of, watching this from a distance, like the fact that Israel may have to - decide it has to launch military action against Iran in coming months, and for that reason might want to, kind of, try out of its systems, smoke out where the rocket fire in Gaza will come from, see whether their new antimissile system, the iron dome, has been successful - and it has been pretty successful, from everything we read.

So that may be another factor, but the basic thing that I hear from Israelis is, we don't really have a strategy for this kind of operation. Every five, six, seven years we sometimes just have to take a punch at our adversary to get our adversary to stop doing the actions that threaten Israelis.

MONTAGNE: What does each side gain or lose from a cease fire - starting with the Israelis?

IGNATIUS: The Israelis gain, a cease fire, a respite in these rocket attacks. We have an Israeli election coming up, and stopping the rocket fire would certainly be popular for Bibi Netanyahu. What Hamas would have to gain from a cease fire will be one of the interesting diplomatic questions. Hamas isn't going to quit firing these rockets without getting something. So, what people are talking about is some easing of the blockade, which makes life very difficult for people in Gaza, probably an effort to get greater ties between Gaza and Egypt under the new president, Morsi. Morsi's role in brokering the cease fire - if it proves decisive - would probably represent the biggest change of all in the region. It would mark his arrival as a significant player and even a statesman.

MONTAGNE: And Secretary of State Clinton, what does she bring to the table?

IGNATIUS: She brings her experience. She's there, supposedly, as a mediator. The problem is that Secretary Clinton is only going to talk to one side in this conflict. She's going to go and talk to Prime Minister Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders, but she isn't going to talk to Hamas because that's not permitted. Congress has passed legislation declaring Hamas a terrorist organization, so she will, instead, talk to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank - which is fine but they don't have anything to do with this violence. She'll also go to Egypt and talk to President Morsi there, and through him, presumably, will try to influence Hamas.

MONTAGNE: And what do you think, a deal will be struck

IGNATIUS: Well, I think it's possible that this round of the conflict will be ended with a deal. The problem, I think, that Israelis increasingly are facing up to and writing about in their media, is that they climb up these hills without a clear way to get down. I know that Israelis wonder, is there a more strategic approach to this problem, if we find, in the new Egypt of President Morsi, a more constructive partner in working with Hamas and the people in Gaza.

MONTAGNE: David, thanks very much.

IGNATIUS: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: David Ignatius is a columnist for the Washington Post. You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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