It was reasonable to expect that with Hamas missiles now proving able to reach Tel Aviv and Jerusalem; with the first terrorist bus bomb in Tel Aviv in years, that Israel would have been reluctant, to say the least, to agree to a cease fire. And yet that cease fire was announced. And on the very day of the Tel Aviv bus bomb. Yes Obama’s secretary of state was in the region so the land invasion was expected to be delayed. But a cease fire agreement: where did that come from?

Let’s put this in context. For twelve years the United States has repeatedly given ground to Iran, has avoided military confrontation at all costs. For at least eight of those years the United States has kept Israel on a short leash responding to Iran’s nuclear program. Did that “short leash” extend to Gaza, 2012 also? Did Obama threaten Israel, to disown the state of the Jews, condemn her at the UN and to the world? Did Obama threaten to end the alliance, to cut her off financially and militarily?

According to Debka rather than threaten Israel into compliance Obama in fact, and for the first time publicly, offered the carrot.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu agreed to a ceasefire for halting the eight-day Israeli Gaza operation Wednesday night, Nov. 21, after President Barack Obama personally pledged to start deploying US troops in Egyptian Sinai next week…US special forces are due to land at Sharm el Sheikh military airfield in southern Sinai in the next 48 hours…”

Of course there are already American forces present in Sinai, so what significance additional forces, even if “Special Forces”? I will address tactical questions first, even though they are in inverse importance to the potential strategic advantages. Israel sent in the IAF to respond to missiles falling on the south. So one war objective was to cut the supply lines feeding Gaza. The destruction of that Khartoum missile factory some days earlier, although not appreciated at the time, may have represented the opening salvo against Hamas. But Iran still had open supply lines through southern Sinai, and Egypt was either unable or unwilling to stop the smuggling.

Enter those US Special Forces. But the significance of the US stopping the smuggling goes well beyond Gaza since,

a US special forces operation against the Sinai segment of the Iranian smuggling route would count as the first overt American military strike against an Iranian military interest.

For the first time in twelve years the US is sending a public message to Khameini that Obama’s “all” in “all options are on the table” has teeth. Whether or not the president will actually carry through on his Spring, 2013 deadline (not a “red line”!) for success in negotiations is still an open question. But Obama has at least begun to walk the walk.

Secondarily a reinforced deployment of US military in the Sinai “protects” the peace between Israel and Egypt, without Egypt having to give up its Islamist credentials. Note that Egypt condemned “Israeli aggression” throughout the eight-day war while at the same time “mediating” between Hamas and Israel. This led to a significant strengthening of the new Egyptian president’s power at home, something he proved quite capable of capitalizing on.

One day after being lionized by Obama and Clinton as peacemaker, Mohammed Morsi surprised all:”

There are weevils eating away at the nation of Egypt,” he said, pointing to old regime loyalists he accused of using money to fuel instability and to members of the judiciary who work under the “umbrella” of the courts to “harm the country [now disbanded]… Morsi, who holds legislative as well as executive powers, also declared his power to take any steps necessary to prevent “threats to the revolution,” public safety or the workings of state institutions. Rights activists warned that the vague — and unexplained — wording could give him even greater power than those Mubarak held under emergency laws throughout his rule.”

Which places President Obama in the awkward position of supporting Egypt’s newest dictator against the same students and their demands expressed in Tahrir Square just eighteen months ago. Except today the rioting is not limited to Cairo but has spread to Alexandria, Port Said and other cities.

Eighteen months ago Obama sided with the Tahrir students demanding democracy for Egypt, and he forced Hosni Mubarak from office and embraced the Muslim Brotherhood. How will our second term president respond to the repeat situation: the newly emerging Muslim Brotherhood “dictator” acting against those same students demanding “democracy for the people”?

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Friday that Morsi’s declarations “raise concern for many Egyptians and for the international community.

 

“The U.S.calls for Egyptians to “resolve their differences over these important issues peacefully and through democratic dialogue,” she said.”

Six days ago, in another article I wrote for TOI, Gaza: Will Iran take the bait? I speculated that the Gaza war was more about Iran than Hamas.

Iran (I suggested) even threatening to intervene on behalf of its Gaza puppet would represent a causus belli, a threat of war. And that would be enough to justify Israeli preemption, the long-anticipated attack on Iran’s nuclear program.

Should Israel have provided a convincing reason for acting against Iran, I suggested, the US would find it difficult not to participate, and even lead the assault. I was surprised at the hasty cease fire the day of the Tel Aviv bus. At least until that Debka article. Under the terms of the cease fire President Obama has openly challenged the Iranian military.

While not itself a declaration of war, Obama has put Iran on notice.

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