Winner: USA. Loser: Iran. Right there in a nutshell, you have the results of the most recent conflict in Gaza. The ceasefire agreement has proved that – as before – the United States is the authoritative power when it comes to order in the Middle East.
At the same time, the Gaza truce showed that the Obama administration's foreign policy strategy, largely honed by outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – of exercising American power indirectly by working through regional networks – can bear fruit.
The United States put Egypt in charge of negotiations between Israel and Hamas, thereby taking the Islamic Republic of Iran, which up to now has been the Palestinian terror organization’s main sponsor, out of the equation.
The architecture of Washington’s plans for Middle East security is starting to take shape: Despite – or perhaps because of – Egypt’s domestic turbulence, the country is to be developed into a credible guarantor for at least a provisional Israeli-Palestinian peace.
Through Cairo, and with the support of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Hamas is to be weaned off Iranian influence – indeed the weaning is part and parcel of the peace process. Because of the significant influence in the Arab world to be won for Egypt by his cooperation, the Islamist Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi has been playing his part in the American-scripted scenario not only reliably but also very convincingly.
What has also emerged is that Egypt, although it is drifting in the direction of Islamic theocracy, still relies on American aid: without the billions of dollars that the U.S. pumps in, the Egyptian military would be reduced to the level of a carnival troupe.
Washington’s consideration of Egypt also determined its behavior toward Israel in this conflict. From the start, Barack Obama gave Israel his support for its air attacks on Hamas military structure, but rejected just as clearly an Israeli ground offensive. The U.S. feared that a long and bloody conflict would bring the hatred for Israel in Egypt to a boiling point, thus making Morsi’s commitment to the Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement untenable.
A possible attack on Iran
Yet, as the tight military and security policy cooperation between the U.S. and Israel proved itself, Israel too can perceive itself as a winner in this Gaza conflict even if it did not succeed in its goal to destroy Hamas definitively.
The Israeli army carried out the attacks on Hamas with a precision that the radical Islamists were not expecting. Because the precision attacks left very few victims, Hamas was in a poor position to crank its anti-Israeli ("Zionist baby killers!") propaganda machine into full gear. The ceasefire came at a good time for them, enabling them to hang on to at least minimal military clout.
Both the effective air offensive and the success of the new Iron Dome anti-missile system are thanks to the high-tech equipment the Israelis got from the U.S. in an unprecedented shoring-up of the Israeli army. To a degree, the Gaza offensive was a joint American-Israeli test run for a possible attack on Iranian nuclear sites.
After this experience, Israel can feel much more secure about Iranian (or Iranian-driven) retaliatory attacks. And Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s adherence to the American crisis script shows that he doesn’t have any margin left to do anything against the will of the recently re-elected U.S. president he so dislikes.
That means there will be no attack on Iran without Washington’s consent.
Obama’s clear-cut pro-Israeli stance in this Gaza conflict also sent the signal to Jerusalem that the American president means it when he says that the U.S. is still considering the possibility of a military option to prevent Iran from having atomic weaponry.
The ceasefire in Gaza furthers Tehran’s isolation – which is not to say that the U.S. safety construct isn’t fragile.
Morsi’s attempts at a kind of presidential dictatorship in Egypt, which would grant him hegemony over the Muslim Brothers, are in the process of convulsing his nation. And should Egypt sink into chaos, this whole Middle East security strategy will collapse as fast as a house of cards.