Israel’s hourglass for conducting an operation is running faster than it would like it to. The legitimacy of using force is very limited in time. Some people contend that during the first days of Operation Cast Lead, Israel enjoyed more legitimacy than it does today, because at that time, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was engaged in a diplomatic process with the Palestinians, whereas present Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not.
It’s still too early to assess the extent of legitimacy that will be awarded to the current operation, “Pillar of Cloud.” While US President Barack Obama, in a talk with Netanyahu, has expressed support of the operation and Israel’s right of self defense, it is not unlikely that the Israeli premier heard a more complex message from Katherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign minister.
Staging a remarkable production of rhetoric that started on Sunday [Nov. 11] in a bid to prepare the international community for an Israeli military operation in Gaza, Netanyahu knew he would be given limited legitimacy — pointing fingers at this time is really irrelevant — and he took action to extend it as much as possible. As the hours go by, Netanyahu will undoubtedly feel the international pressure that would limit his actions in Gaza.
Yet the issue of garnering international legitimacy for launching an operation in Gaza isn’t the greatest problem facing Netanyahu and his government. The real price is the relations with Egypt. In fact, Israel has already started paying that price following the announcement from the presidential palace in Cairo that the ambassador had been recalled for consultations. Today [Nov. 15], Tel Aviv will wake up without an Egyptian ambassador. The Israeli Ambassador to Cairo, Yaakov Amitai, and the rest of the diplomatic corps also returned to Israel, with the official explanation of a general holiday in Egypt. In this case, too, his status remains unclear.
For four years Netanyahu has avoided launching a large-scale military operation in Gaza. Ever since Hosni Mubarak’s ouster, the Egyptians applied heavy pressure to Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak not to do it because of hostile public opinion in Egypt. Last August, the Egyptians resorted to real threats — that helped. Netanyahu’s advisor, Yaakov Amidror, admitted to the Egyptian ambassador at the time that “Egypt averted a war in Gaza.”
This time, the Egyptian issued a warning as well. However, now sensitivity is much more heightened because neither Mubarak nor General Tantawi are at the helm but rather the Muslim Brotherhood, whose president refuses to mention Israel by name.
The Egyptians didn’t wait. Less than five hours after the assassination of Hamas’ military leader, Ahmed Jabari, the presidential palace announced the recall of the Egyptian ambassador. How much damage have Israeli-Egyptian relations sustained? We’ll find out shortly.
Is the peace accord in jeopardy more than ever? Probably yes.