Escalations in Gaza

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(Hardline Hamas Leader Mahmoud Zahar displays a piece of fabric covered in the blood of his son, who was killed by Israeli forces Tuesday. Suhaib Salem/Reuters)

Columnist Rami Khouri warned more than a week ago that Bush’s visit to the Middle East may intensify the cycle of violence, and he is partially vindicated by today’s bloodshed in Gaza. But partially is as far as I’m willing to go — Bush didn’t cause the problem in Gaza and it will be there long after he leaves office. The role his regional visit played in today’s outbreak of violence is debatable, however it’s interesting that American wars in the Middle East are blamed on Israeli influence over the US Congress, and Israeli wars or escalations are blamed on Bush. Apparently neither country can act on its own initiative. Predictably, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and Hamas leaders Khaled Mashaal and Mahmoud Zahar (who lost his son in today’s attack) pointed the finger at Bush for the escalation in violence with no mention of the role played by daily Qassam fire at Israeli towns in the western Negev. In an interview with AFP from Damascus, the exiled Mashaal stated, “This crime is the ugly fruit of Bush’s visit to the region. He has incited the Zionists and has exerted pressure on the Palestinian side to become more hardline against Palestinian dialogue.” But some analysts argue that Israeli escalations, rather than being urged and conducted in cohorts with the desires of the Bush administration, are actually being carried out in order to thwart Bush’s Middle East peace initiative, lest it lead to the formation of a Palestinian state. For the sake of his legacy Bush would like to see this succeed before he leaves office. As early as yesterday there was talk of a right wing rebellion from coalition parties within the Olmert government over talks on “core issues,” (update: Avigdor Liberman’s far right wing party, Yisrael Beiteinu, has left the coalition) and the Israelis were reportedly very unhappy with the U.S. decision to go through with the sale of JDAM bomb kits (Joint Direct Attack Munitions) to Saudi Arabia even though these satellite guided smart bombs are said not to be as smart as the ones Israel is getting. The United States needs its Sunni Arab allies to counter Iranian influence in the region, but bolstering these allies is causing an uncomfortable rift with Israel.

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