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Lessons of the Gaza War

By Steven L. Spiegel

Now that the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas has begun to take effect (at least for now), it's time to begin to assess the outcome of the war, and where we go from here.

1.  The big star and game changer is the Iron Dome anti-missile defense system.  Without it, there would have been many more Israeli casualties, and the Netanyahu government would undoubtedly have sent ground troops into Gaza.  Look for the immediate hot topic in security circles to be anti-missile defense systems, and look for American aid to Israel to increase on this front.  President Obama has already indicated his support.

2.  Israel often has a hawkish reputation, but it is amazing that it has watched as Hamas and Hezbollah on its southern and northern borders gradually escalated missile capabilities.  We Americans wouldn't have done that if some group developed much less of a capability on our Canadian or Mexican borders, let alone both.  Look for Israeli hawks and doves to both argue that their analysis was correct, and recommend policies accordingly.

3.  Hamas is a big winner.  Even in the last hours of the conflict, it was still capable of attacking Israel.  Look for an enhanced Hamas prestige among Palestinians and in the Arab world. More troubles for the U.S., Israel, and the Palestinian Authority.

4.  But, at least in the short term, look for a longer term truce and the dramatic reduction of missiles from Gaza raining on Israel, and therefore a limit on Israeli retaliations.  Look for both sides to declare victories; greater standing for Hamas, and enhanced deterrence for the Israelis.

5.  The new Islamist Egyptian government performed well in becoming the main sponsor of the cease-fire agreement, but the Sinai -- the conduit for arms to Gaza -- has become more lethal than ever.  Look for pressure to increase on Egypt to do something about Sinai, and for quiet discussions calling for the addition of western advisers to help to regain Cairo's control.  Egypt's role in the cease-fire and its weakness in Sinai could and should actually enhance the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty if it is handled properly.

6.  Iran is a big winner. It managed to provide the missiles to Hamas via Sudan and through the Sinai that had the greatest psychological impact on both Israelis and Arabs alike by seeming to threaten Tel Aviv and even Jerusalem.

7.  At the same time, the confrontation with Iran becomes more complex, as there will be mixed interpretations of the meaning of the Gaza War.  On the one hand, there will be less enthusiasm for an attack on its developing nuclear weapons program among the already wary Israeli public and a significant number of security specialists, reinforced by American and European caution.  On the other hand, others will argue that the Hamas arsenal suggests that a nuclear Iran would be even more dangerous.  Look for intensified disputes in the months to come about a possible attack on Iran, even tougher sanctions, and more pressure on President Obama to both try to reach a negotiated settlement on that front and to consider American action.

8.  Similarly, as suggested in the cease-fire agreement, there will be alleviation of the already-diminished Israeli blockade of Gaza. Look for much greater flexibility on civilian goods entering Gaza and much more attention to the passage of Libyan and Iranian arms (through Sudan to Egypt) to Hamas.

9.  The Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas is a big loser. It will be more difficult than ever to bolster the Fatah leadership on the West Bank as Hamas grows in stature.  The United States will be challenged to provide more economic aid and more diplomatic activity on the peace process.  Look for much more attention to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process than at any time since mid-2011, when President Obama's initiative at the time quickly fizzled.

10.  American efforts will be more complicated than ever because of the imminent Palestinian bid to become a non-member observer state at the UN.  At least in the short term, membership will strengthen Abbas, but the missile war with Israel strengthens the possibility of Hamas leadership.  The U.S. cannot afford Hamas, an ally of Iran, potentially representing Palestine at the UN, should Abbas weaken further.  Look for the U.S. to try to square the circle by increasing its opposition to the Abbas UN initiative, and simultaneously attempting to strengthen Abbas through economic aid and the resumption of diplomacy on the peace process front.  That might have the chance of some success if the conflict over the UN bid, now presumed to trigger diminished aid to Abbas, can somehow be resolved.

During the Gaza War, President Obama was traveling in Southeast Asia, as part of the administration's vaunted "pivot" to Asia.  It's a good policy, but the Middle East followed him there.  As the president contemplates new appointments in the foreign policy arena, he will have to consider that just as the U.S. necessarily begins to pay more attention to the Asian front, the conflicts and problems of the Middle East will stubbornly remain.  We will be stuck with a very complex region we cannot ignore for a very long time to come.

Professor Steven Spiegel is a Professor of Political Science at UCLA and director of UCLA Center for Middle East Development.

This article was originally published in the Huffington Post.