Obama's Silence

Israel carries on the 'terrorist cleansing' of Gaza without paying any attention to the Security Council's resolution, to politicians and international public opinion's disapproval of the war. To the troops and to the leadership only one item matters: time.

The preparation and professionalism that the Israeli army shows in its effort to smash, once and for all, Hamas follows the blueprint of the 'quick and dirty war'. Everybody likes this type of conflict because it is cheap and easy to go unnoticed. The dangers for Israel are in fact all related time: the longer the war lasts the more likely that world public opinion will turn against it, as it happened in 2006 during the war in Lebanon. But there is another peril lurking in the background of the passing of the time: that the war will not end before the US presidential inauguration and that Barack Obama will be forced to deal with it instead of brokering a new peace process in the Middle East. If this analysis is correct then Hamas has to be defeated before January 20 when the change of the guard takes place in Washington. This war may go down in history as 'the conflict of the US presidential transition' because this is the interval chosen to fight and win it. For just over 70 days America has two presidents, none with full power. Politically, this is the point in time when the past and the future administration are weakest. The Israelis know it and in November, on election-day, enter Gaza and kill 6 Hamas militants. Hamas falls into the trap and ends the cease-fire providing Tel-Aviv the much needed casus belli for war. While America and the word are fully focused on the new leadership and totally preoccupied with the credit crunch, Israel goes to war. The silence of the new president - dictated, according to his transition team, by rigid protocol - and the absence of a firm and committed call for a cease-fire from the past president, confirm that the timing of this conflict is perfect. As America gets ready to witness history in the making next Tuesday one important paragraph may be going missing, conveniently lost in the void of power of the long presidential transition. If Hamas capitulates before the January 20th the world will never know what Barak Obama, the man who most probably will lead the peace negotiations and possibly the redrawing of the map of the Middle East, thinks of this conflict. Some people say that the timing of the war seems also perfect for the new administration. The choice may well be related to Obama's visit to Jerusalem, when he gave his full support to Israel. How can we forget what the future president said to the population of Jerusalem? That if he lived in Israel and Hamas' missiles were threatening his house where his two daughters lived, he would act as the Israelis do. He did not add that Israel right to defend, a right granted to all nations under attack, must be exercised within the international rules of war and in the full respect of the authority of United Nations. Without them we regress to the law of the jungle. If Hamas does not lasts beyond inauguration day we will also not know what Obama thinks of the UN Security Council that has not backed the 'preventive' war in Iraq or the 'defensive' war in Gaza. Likely, in the next years there will be more opportunity to learn what the president of 'change' really thinks about the Middle East, the UN and the proliferation of 'unorthodox wars' such as the one fought in Gaza now. After Tuesday Barack Obama will not be able to hide any longer behind political protocol.

Loretta Napoleoni is an economist and the author of Rogue Economics.