Lee Smith, writing at Tablet:

Seven days ago, Israel embarked on Operation Pillar of Defense, the second time it’s gone to war against Hamas in the past four years. The proximate cause of this campaign, according to Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, was “the incessant rounds of artillery rockets and mortars into the heart of our southern communities.” But that rationale was surely coupled with a build-up in Hamas’ weapons arsenal—including the Iranian-made Fajr-5 missile, capable of striking Tel Aviv, and Kornet anti-tank missiles, one of which was fired on an IDF jeep and injured four soldiers on Nov. 10.

But as with all conflicts in the Middle East, this confrontation is not limited to the two actors currently exchanging fire. It will shape the strategic position of a host of regional and international actors, most dramatically Egypt, the United States, and Iran. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s arrival yesterday in Jerusalem (she will also be visiting Ramallah and Cairo) for ceasefire talks marks a very delicate and perhaps dangerous phase of this war.

Will the secretary of state be able to take Israel’s winning military campaign and turn it into a diplomatic triumph for Washington and Jerusalem at the expense of Hamas and Iran? Successful negotiations would also convince a reluctant Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi that his long-term interests are best served by staying close to the United States rather than Hamas. Perhaps no one is watching Clinton and the course of the Israeli campaign more closely than those in Tehran. With rumors of bilateral talks with Washington over their nuclear arms program, the Iranians want to see how the Americans deal with their Israeli ally and negotiate under pressure.

No matter what happens in the next few days, though, Operation Pillar of Defense has rearranged the Middle East game board. Here’s how it looks right now—and how the dynamics might look in the coming months as Iran continues to march toward nuclear weapons.

Whole thing here.

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