Who Started?

Who’s responsible for the sudden deterioation of the situation in the Middle East?

The answer to that question has obvious policy implications – and we do see how different actors answer it very differently.

The latest escalation was undoubtedly initiated by Hezbollah with its border ambush that kidnapped two soldiers. It was this step that lead the Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defence Force to say that he was going to ”take Lebanon 20 years back.”

But this development can hardly be understood without the dramatic deterioation of the situation in and around Gaza – which in its turn can not be understood without going back to the confrontation that started with the Hamas election victory in January.

But the really missed opportunity was probably after the death of Yasir Arafat and the election in January 2005 of Abu Mazen as his successor.

Suddenly there was a ”partner for peace”, and I remember writing at the time that if that opportunity was not used for concrete steps forward we were likely to see the baton passed to Hamas.

It wasn’t. Israel was very reluctant to move forward on the general political front as it was concentrating on irs withdrawal from Gaza, which was a contensted move inside the country.

That was really the missed opportunity. That was the time when there might have been the possibility to start moving towards a more stable two-state solution.

But the opportunity was missed – deliberately or just by default. And the election meant that the baton passed to Hamas, that Western policy sunk down in just short-term economic retaliation and we entered the present cycle of highly dangereous escalation.

It was by missing that opportunity that the space was created for spoilers like Iran to start entering the game. And it wasn’t entirely unpredictable – I remember writing about that risk here months ago.

And now we are where we are. In tragedy.

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