Wednesday, July 8

Israel’s deceptive diplomatic success

The long-term effects of the 2014 Gaza war are still being felt: Israel’s international credit is depleted, public opinion has turned hostile and prospects of boycott loom larger than ever.


Ten days into the 2014 Gaza war known in Israel as Operation Protective Edge, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, said this: “I am saddened and disappointed to note the silence of the international community against this injustice.” He blasted the “inaction and indifference” of the “Muslim nation” in preventing “Israeli aggression.”

You can quibble with Sharif’s terminology – but not with his diagnosis of last summer’s diplomatic realities. Most of the world, with the possible exception of Latin America, initially reacted to the Gaza operation with sympathy for Israel’s “right to self-defense” against Hamas rockets, progressed from there to condemnation of “violence on both sides” and ended with a stern call for Israel to cease its “disproportionate” raids on Gaza, much of which had already been reduced to rubble. Five Latin American countries, led by Brazil, recalled their ambassadors; Britain and Spain mumbled something about reexamining defense contracts; and the Security Council called for a cease-fire. That was about it.

This benign diplomatic reaction included much of the Middle East as well. True, Iran and Turkey railed against Israel’s “state terrorism” and Arab capitals duly denounced the Israel Defense Forces attacks, but behind the scenes Israel actually had some powerful backers, including Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries. President Sisi’s Egypt, which views Hamas as an arm of its mortal enemy, the Muslim Brotherhood, was actually in cahoots: Cairo at one point coordinated cease-fire terms with Jerusalem that it knew would be rejected by Hamas, thus fortifying Israel’s international stature and giving it an excuse to prolong the fighting.

Three external factors worked in Israel’s favor: The civil war/Russian invasion of Ukraine, especially after the July 17 downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17; President Assad’s brutal tactics in the Syrian civil war, which seemed to be paying off at the time; and, most importantly, the shocking advance of the Islamic State in northwest Iraq and the horrific videos of their barbaric executions.

Focused on these and other fronts – and genuinely appalled by the June 12 kidnapping of three Jewish youths in the West Bank – President Obama and his administration gave Israel full support at the start of the Gaza operation, despite suspicions that Benjamin Netanyahu was using it to undermine the Abbas-Hamas unity government. But the underlying personal and ideological tensions between Washington and Jerusalem quickly came to the fore, after Israel rejected a cease-fire proposal that Secretary of State John Kerry had coordinated, against Israeli and Egyptian wishes, with Turkey and Qatar. Appalled by personal attacks emanating from Israel against Kerry and shocked by the televised pictures of destruction in Gaza’s Shujaiya neighborhood, Obama let loose in an unusually harsh July 27 phone conversation with Netanyahu, most of which was leaked to the press – by both sides.

American public opinion lined up behind Israel, but only on the surface: there were clear fault lines that would grow progressively pronounced throughout the ensuing year. Democrats and young millenials, according to a Pew survey, blamed Israel more than Hamas for sparking the Gaza clash.

That sentiment was echoed a hundred times over in Europe, where increasingly inflamed public opinion, led in many countries by strident Muslim groups, demonstrated against the Israeli campaign, and, in far too many cases, against its very existence. Anti-Semitism appeared to be spiking as a direct consequence, with hundreds of anti-Semitic incidents recorded over the summer in countries such as Britain, France and Germany. And unlike the attitude of governments, which can change from one day to the next on leaders’ whims, the anti-Israel downturn lingers on to this very day.

Although Israelis are constantly being told that the whole world is against them, Jerusalem enjoyed relatively smooth sailing through potentially treacherous diplomatic waters both during and in the immediate aftermath of the Gaza war, a feat made all the more impressive because of the absence of the kind of peace process that kept the world at bay in Operation Cast Lead in 2009. The long-term ripple effects, however, are still being felt, and are perhaps getting stronger: Israel’s international credit is depleted, sizeable chunks of public opinion have turned permanently hostile and the prospects of boycott loom larger than ever. With the benefit of hindsight, therefore, the Gaza war will likely be viewed in the future as a significant milestone on a dangerous diplomatic descent.

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