Moderate Arab states must bring pressure on Hamas

In the seemingly never-ending scenario of attack and retaliation, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has ignited a tinderbox that threatens the shaky quasi-stability of the Middle East. Since Saturday, Israeli warplanes have bombarded targets in the Hamas-controlled Gaza strip in retaliation for rocket and mortar attacks launched from Gaza on southern Israeli cities. So far, more than 300 Palestinians – at least 180 of them Hamas policemen as well as other terrorists and a number of civilian residents — have died, according to the Associated Press.

Hamas militants have regularly bombarded Israel since the Israelis withdrew from the Gaza, an action that permitted terrorists to move in closer, making more effective use of their short-range missiles.

As of this writing, in addition to the retaliation air strikes, Israel has mobilized some 6,500 reservists for what appears to be preparation for a full-scale invasion of the Gaza. According to Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Israel is engaged in a “war to the bitter end” against Hamas forces.

Understandably, this has brought urgent pleas from other nations for the fighting to end. It’s important to note, however, that in the calls for Israel to scale back its attacks, there haven’t been similar calls from Arab states for Hamas to cease its rocket and mortar barrages and resume peace negotiations. It would seem that for most Middle Eastern states that it’s acceptable for Hamas to fire rockets into civilian communities – there have been more than 3,000 rocket and mortar attacks this year — but it’s unacceptable when Israel responds with force.

As cooler heads likely would conclude, an escalation of hostilities between Hamas and the Israeli government is dangerous and could easily spread into a much wider area of the Middle East. Ironically, this almost certainly is what Hamas, a group that has made it obvious it will be happy only when and if Israel ceases to exist, seeks.

Israel’s response — however dangerous it may be — is understandable. It would be in everyone’s best interests, however, for this to be resolved short of a full-scale Gaza invasion. That said, de-escalation of this conflict likely will occur only if moderate Arab states exert pressure for Hamas to call off its attacks. So far, moderate Arab nations haven’t shown serious inclination to help rein in Hamas. The situation is running out of time for them to reconsider their position.