EDITORIAL: Time for Mr. Obama to earn his peace prize

Mideast crisis is an opportunity for president to demonstrate leadership

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Air-raid sirens sounded in Tel Aviv Thursday for the first time since 1991, when Saddam Hussein fired scud missiles at the city during Operation Desert Storm. At least one Iranian-built Fajr missile launched from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip struck a suburb south of the city in the latest attack. Israel continued retaliatory airstrikes in Gaza and began mobilizing 30,000 Army reservists.

Tensions have been high since Israel withdrew unilaterally from Gaza in 2005. Hamas took control of the area in 2007 following a brief conflict with the ruling Fatah faction. Southern Israel has suffered nearly continual mortar, rocket and other attacks launched from Gaza over the ensuing years. If nothing else, this illustrated the futility of the “land for peace” approach to achieving Middle East reconciliation by giving away real estate. At least for Hamas, land is for launching.

The current escalation of hostilities, which Israelis have dubbed Operation Pillar of Defense, is similar to the events that triggered the war in Gaza at the end of 2008. Operation Cast Lead, as it was known, lasted three weeks and left 7,300 dead or wounded on both sides. As the current events reveal, that earlier, limited intervention resolved none of the long-term sticking points.

The latest crisis represents an important test for post-Arab Spring diplomacy. There’s little reason to believe the rise of Islamist governments is going to have a moderating influence on the situation. Egypt played an important role brokering peace in the conflict four years ago, but under its new leadership, it can’t be counted on to ease tensions. On Thursday, Egypt’s president Mohammed Morsi called Israeli strikes in Gaza “unacceptable aggression” and said that “the Israelis must realize that we don’t accept this aggression and that it can only lead to instability in the region.” Speaking at an Islamist conference in Khartoum, Sudan, Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood leader Khaled Mashaal declared that “the era when Israel did what it pleased is over.”

These events also put President Obama on the hot seat. On Wednesday, Mr. Obama spoke separately to Mr. Morsi and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, reiterating U.S. support for Israel’s right to act in self-defense but also agreeing that the crisis must de-escalate soon. That’s unlikely. Hamas seeks revenge for Israel’s targeted killing Wednesday of its top military commander, Ahmed el-Jaabari. The terrorist group proclaimed Israel’s airstrike “opened the gates of hell.” The Israel Defense Force (IDF) responded dryly with a tweet of its own in which the IDF recommended “no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead.”

The strategic map is growing increasingly complicated for Israel. The Syrian civil war has begun to spill over into the Golan Heights. Iran is seeking ways to increase pressure on the Jewish state as a counter to Israel’s opposition to Tehran’s nuclear program. Some Arab states that valued stability and American friendship have fallen under the sway of radical Islamic governments that may take a more bellicose stand. This is the sort of precarious situation likely to escalate in a variety of ways that would do great harm to U.S. interests. Mr. Obama needs to get out in front of this dilemma and attempt to earn the Nobel Peace Prize he was awarded as a “down payment” in 2009. Leading from behind is not going to cut it.

The Washington Times

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