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Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012
More than a week has passed since a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas went into effect. Both sides should continue talks to prevent a new flareup of violence. Egypt, which successfully mediated the ceasefire, the United States, which persuaded Israel to accept Egypt's mediation efforts, and the rest of the international community should spare no efforts to ensure that the ceasefire becomes permanent.
In recent months, rocket attacks from Gaza rained down upon Israel. To strike a direct blow against Hamas, the political authority of the Gaza Strip, the Israel Defense Force assassinated Ahmed Jabari, Hamas' top military commander, in Gaza on Nov. 14. The violence escalated with rockets fired from Gaza reaching Tel Aviv and even Jerusalem. Israeli retaliated by carrying out airstrikes on Gaza targets.
On Nov. 19, a high-ranking Israeli government official mentioned the possibility of an Israeli ground invasion of Gaza. The ceasefire came on Nov. 21, a week after Jabari's assassination. In the latest violence, 162 Palestinians in Gaza were killed and some 1,300 others were injured. Israel suffered six fatalities. The ceasefire prevented the worst scenario — Israel's ground invasion.
In the Gaza war from Dec. 27, 2008, to Jan. 18, 2009, Israel carried out a two-week ground invasion — identified as Operation Cast Lead — from Jan. 3 to stop rocket attacks from Gaza. About 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis died.
Some differences have emerged in the latest conflict. One of them is that Hamas has become militarily more powerful than before as shown by its firing of Iranian-made rockets into Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Israel succeeded in intercepting a large number of rockets by using the Iron Dome advanced air defense system.
Another difference is that the political situation surrounding Israel has changed. In the earlier war, the relations between countries of Sunni Islam and Hamas, which had close relations with Iran, a Shiite country, were frigid, and Israel, rejecting a ceasefire agreement with Hamas, unilaterally ended its ground invasion and attacks. But this time, two influential Sunni countries — Egypt and Turkey — sent their foreign ministers (in the case of Egypt, its prime minster as well) to Gaza.
As Sunni countries announced their solidarity with Hamas and under pressure from the U.S., Israel had no choice but to accept the mediation efforts by President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt, who has a strong channel of communication with Hamas. Mr. Morsi and U.S. President Barack Obama, in the midst of his Asia tour, had rounds of telephone talks on how to achieve the ceasefire. It is hoped that the trustful relations they built will help to stabilize the situation.
It will be impossible to prevent future military conflicts between Israel and Hamas unless the larger Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved. Mr. Obama and Mr. Morsi should make serious efforts to begin a new round of Middle East peace talks.