What U.S. strategic interest

July 2, 2006 12:14 a.m.

What U.S. strategic interest is served by Israel’s seizing of elected Palestinian officials and bombing of the offices of the Palestinian prime minister?

Others have aptly noted the disproportionate Israeli response to the capture of one of its soldiers. When measured not just against the incident that precipated the current escalation of violence but also against international norms, Israel’s conduct has been disproportionate–and self-defeating. (If this report is true, then Israel’s conduct is beyond disproportionate.)

But with the United States bogged down in Iraq, another important measuring stick, at least for us, is U.S. strategic interest. By that measure, Israel’s actions this past week have been a disaster.

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There seems to be a tendency for the United States to continue to view the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the old perspective, when we often served the role of a benevolent uncle who didn’t hesitate to knock his nephews heads together to enforce good behavior. But thanks to our excursion into Iraq, we now have a greater stake in the region than at any time since the end of the Cold War, and perhaps since the creation of Israel. Although President Bush is loath to admit it, our heightened level of involvement may very well continue for decades to come.

Caught between warring factions and the target of insurgents, we are in a virtually untenable situation in Iraq, tactically and strategically. One of the few things that could possibly worsen the dire circumstances in Iraq is for Israel to inflame Iraqis and the region further with the sort of conduct it has exhibited this past week.

If you are one of the few people who takes seriously the President’s stated strategic objective of bringing democracy to the Middle East, then you won’t cheer Israeli military strikes on the fledgling institutions of a tenuous democracy (if that’s not being too charitable toward the Palestinian government).

In fairness to Israel, it is not clear to anyone, including the President, what our strategic objectives in Iraq are. We can hardly expect our allies to closely coordinate their policies with ours, which, as the President himself has declared, consists of waiting around for his successor to take office so the next guy (or gal) can figure out what to do. It’s a hapless situation that we’ve gotten ourselves into, and for that Israel is not to blame.

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