Just as the State Department began to bask in the brief sunshine of a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, a man the United States viewed as the blander, kinder face of Islamic revolutionism, announced that his decisions were exempt from judicial review. Many Egyptians are not pleased with this craven grab for unilateral power, but, despotism being what it is, they don't have much say in the matter. The constitutional crisis in Egypt is just beginning.**
In squeezing from the combatants an agreement to end their most recent hostilities, the United States enlisted Egypt's assistance, without whose involvement there probably would have been no cease-fire. Morsi's agreement to use his recently-acquired good offices gave our star-crossed State Department an opportunity to be part of a success story and fueled our hope that he would be a positive force in the region. Optimists will argue that the situation is improving, but the realists can cite plenty of historical analogies that prove the contrary.
It is interesting to note that Hezbollah absented itself from the fracas, and for good objective reason: it has acquired some legitimacy as the ruler of Lebanon and has enough on its plate without getting into a boxing match with Israel at the moment. For the other players, there seems to be something for everybody.
For the United States, the chance to be a broker, even for a deal that has no legs, was better than no chance at all. Morsi seized an opportunity to exert influence at an early stage of his rule and in the process convince the United states that he is worthy of the billions of dollars in aid we will deliver. Hamas found it useful to agree because a cease-fire buys time to rest and to work with Morsi and Iran to develop a modus vivendi that will enable it to re-arm and to grow in strength.
It may seem that a cease-fire is less attractive to Israel, but there is actually much at work here, too. Israelis are not unified in their opinion of either Netanyahu or the path he is taking, and his coalition is fragile. As with many other nations, including the United States, there is a large domestic political component to everything, including foreign affairs. Because in Israel there is support for both aggression and appeasement, counterattacking after Hamas began launching rockets was essential, as was agreeing to a cease-fire. It is also not a small thing that, although Israel was poised for an incursion into Gaza, there were many, including military people, who advised strongly against it, mindful of how poorly the IDF performed in the attack into southern Lebanon.
What Israel really needs more than almost anything else is American support, but the White House stated its displeasure at the prospect of an Israeli ground assault into Gaza, no matter how limited the objective. Israel doesn't need dollars as much as it needs access to what they can buy: the latest in military technology. For a sophisticated country that is effectively at war with a relatively unsophisticated adversary, Israel needs defensive weapons to counteract the advantage Hamas has in numbers of rockets and the indiscriminate destruction and thus terror that unguided, explosive projectiles can cause. Israel's Iron Dome defense is composed of an assortment of systems that do a modest job of protection, but it will be inadequate if the next attacks are not truncated by another cease-fire.
It is not hard, therefore, to see Netanyahu's being swayed by this trade: an Israeli agreement to a cease-fire in exchange for early receipt of the next-generation anti-missile technology, a system that can detect projectiles at launch, immediately plot their trajectories, and destroy the warheads before they hit the ground.
It will be interesting to see how far Morsi and his supporters will go to increase control of the Egyptian political apparatus. Meanwhile, Hamas, unencumbered by the restrictions that hobble popular governments, is limited only by the numbers of weapons at its disposal. Even with American guarantees, one wonders how patient Netanyahu can be in the face of the provocation that is bound to come. So, the State Department should not spend too much effort patting itself on the back, because if relations in that part of the world teach us anything it is that diplomatic success is elusive, and it doesn't last long even when you get it.