Israel braces for ground war

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Except for a small number of targeted assassinations of militant leaders, the Israelis have attempted to avoid Palestinian casualties unlike their incursion four years ago, which brought accusations of war crimes.

Meanwhile, Egypt – one of two Arab states that have peace deals with Israel – announced that Prime Minister Hesham Qandil would visit the Gaza Strip on Friday in an expression of solidarity with the Palestinian territory.

The plan was announced after Washington urged Cairo to exert its influence in the region to stop the violence.

Israel’s relationship with Egypt may become the biggest casualty of the violence in Gaza, analysts said. Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi has come under increasing pressure from his Muslim Brotherhood base to cancel the 1979 peace treaty with the Jewish state.

The Brotherhood, which had been banned in Egypt, came to power after Arab Spring protests ousted President Hosni Mubarak and the Islamist group’s candidates won subsequent parliamentary and presidential elections.

“It is not just that Morsi is being pulled by the Brotherhood. His own impulses are, from all perspectives, to act irresponsibly,” said Eric Trager, an Egypt analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“Morsi would try to use this flare-up to justify a breakup of relations with Israel. He is constrained from doing so, however, due to the cautiousness of his national security and diplomatic professionals, as well as by the reality that the Brotherhood doesn’t want a confrontation with Israel now,” Mr. Trager said.

Mr. Byman said Mr. Morsi can handle pressure from within the Muslim Brotherhood and will seek “lesser ways to show his anger at Israel.”

Iron Dome defense

President Obama discussed developments in Gaza over the phone Wednesday with Mr. Morsi and Mr. Netanyahu, with whom the American president has a frosty relationship.

Mr. Obama reiterated “the United States’ support for Israel’s right to self-defense in light of the barrage of rocket attacks against Israeli civilians,” a point he also made in talks with Mr. Morsi.

A White House statement said Mr. Obama and Mr. Morsi agreed on the importance of de-escalating the situation.

The Saban Center’s Mr. Byman said the U.S. role should include asking Egypt to rein in Hamas.

“Obama must communicate to Morsi that using Israeli-Palestinian fighting to unravel the Israeli-Egyptian relationship is both illogical and unacceptable,” Mr. Trager said. “He should make it very clear that any significant downgrade in Egyptian-Israeli relations by the Morsi government will be met by a cutoff of [U.S.] aid.”

The U.S. had given Mubarak $1.3 billion in annual aid in exchange for keeping the peace with Israel.

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