Why did Israel withdraw from Gaza on the eve of Obama's inauguration?
January 19, 2009 9:44 PM   Subscribe

Why did Israel withdraw from Gaza on the eve of Obama's inauguration?

I don't get it. I can see how Israel invading Gaza shortly before Obama takes over perhaps makes sense, if you're trying to force a declaration of alliance with Israel's interests from the US asap. But then why pull out right before? Isn't this allowing Obama's new administration to get off easy? Was Israel just trying to get a quick strike in before Bush leaves office?
posted by mqk to Law & Government (19 answers total)
 
I can see how Israel invading Gaza shortly before Obama takes over perhaps makes sense, if you're trying to force a declaration of alliance with Israel's interests from the US asap.

Perhaps you're being a little bit too US-centric here. While it's undeniable that the US has vested interests and influence in the region, Israel's actions are probably dictated more by its internal politics and the situation on the ground than by who the leader of the US is.
posted by chrisamiller at 9:51 PM on January 19, 2009


No, I think it's valid, chrisamiller. The entire Gaza operation was clearly predicated on taking place during the lame-duck period when the Bush administration's influence was ebbing (from a low starting point) and the Obama administration's influence was at best limited to being supportive of Bush by proxy -- and the US electorate would be distracted. It really isn't for nothing that Israel is called the 51st state. However much some demographics give Israel unqualified support, they would dislike having their military and economic aid re-examined in Congress and they have to consider that a distinct possibility by comparison with the prior regime.

The "quick strike" seems to have achieved, at least partially, numerous objectives of the Israeli government. Hamas fighting capability has been severely cut, and key Hamas political and military leaders have been killed. Inventories and supply lines for military materiel have been quashed. Fatah is in position to attempt to reassert political control in Gaza. And you could say they made their point.

It certainly was never in Israel's goals or interests to maintain an intensive occupation of Gaza. See the history of the occupied territories for the toll that took on Israeli military personnel as well as the cost.
posted by dhartung at 10:03 PM on January 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


I agree with previous poster. Israel's elections are February 10. Israelis consider Gaza to be an area they have no interest in occupying again, after two failed occupations (1956-57 and 1967-2005).

In terms of Obama, the cease-fire makes sense now because Israel would probably rather not Obama have to pay attention to the Middle East immediately. Obama has a lot on his plate now: the economy, America's own wars, etc. Last thing he needs is to mediate a Middle East conflagaration.
posted by j1950 at 10:03 PM on January 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


I also think that you are being perhaps too U.S.-centric. Part of it I'm sure, is that Israel wanted to avoid the result of its 2006 incursion into Lebanon, which many saw as a failure for Israel and a victory for Hezbollah, in propaganda terms at least. By decisively leaving on their own timetable, Israel avoids a repeat of this.
posted by grouse at 10:04 PM on January 19, 2009


i also agree that while here in the middle of the good ole us of a it seems like obama putting his hand on a bible tomorrow is the only thing that could possibly be going on, other countries keep having their own politics to sort that have little to do with our shifts of power.
posted by nadawi at 10:15 PM on January 19, 2009


Only Olmert really knows the answer.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:58 PM on January 19, 2009


Why did Israel withdraw from Gaza on the eve of Obama's inauguration?


The Obama inauguration promises to be one of the biggest events in history, and there was a lot of pressure on the Isreali leadership to end the war so that reservists could travel to Washington to attend the inauguration (given the subway lineups they may not make it, anyway) or watch the ceremonies on television.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:41 PM on January 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


Because Bushless is a traditional holiday for such things.
posted by holgate at 1:33 AM on January 20, 2009


The Obama inauguration promises to be one of the biggest events in history, and there was a lot of pressure on the Isreali leadership to end the war so that reservists could travel to Washington to attend the inauguration (given the subway lineups they may not make it, anyway) or watch the ceremonies on television.

This theory sounds frankly unbelievable. Do you have a source for this?
posted by odinsdream at 5:47 AM on January 20, 2009


odinsdream: I think I can say with certainty that KokuRyu was being facetious.
posted by Tomorrowful at 6:43 AM on January 20, 2009


I think the military stratedgy of the IDF really is a short 20-30 day war with lots of air support to damage existing military and civillian infrastructure. We saw this with Hezbollah and we saw this again with Gaza. The idea is to use military intel to make a long list or targets and hit them quickly. This more or less destroys the fighting capacity of these groups, at least until their benefactors rearm them again. The IDF leadership knows that they cant invade and occupy anything without sacrificing a large part of the military so they do these low risk strikes.

Im not saying its 100% coincidental, but there probably was never a plan to fight for very long and they knew they could finish before Obama started.
posted by damn dirty ape at 6:47 AM on January 20, 2009


I also think that you are being perhaps too U.S.-centric.

While in general I agree that Americans are far too U.S.-centric, in this case it's perfectly reasonable to suppose the timing was influenced by the American situation. Hamas has been sending rockets into Israel forever; why did Israel choose precisely this time to make its incursion? If you think Israeli leaders don't pay attention to American politics, you're living in a dream world. And it makes sense they would withdraw before the inauguration; they certainly want Obama to continue America's unstinting and virtually unconditional support of Israel, and not giving him headaches as he takes office is a good way to aid that process.
posted by languagehat at 6:57 AM on January 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


I thought the particular timing of the attack was due to upcoming Israeli elections?
posted by schroedinger at 7:12 AM on January 20, 2009


I was discussing this very point with my wife this morning. Here's my theory.

This is actually a big favor to Obama. He's being inaugurated today, and will attend no less than 10 different parties tonight (and give speeches at all of them). Since it's his first day on the job, he'd be hounded tomorrow about the "ongoing" "war" or "battle" and it would look callous to have attended those parties. At the very least, he'd have to start issuing press releases, and sending the special envoy team, and getting to *work* on Wednesday. This cease fire gives Obama a much needed breather at least through the weekend without having to have his entire first press conference given over to this topic over (perhaps rightly so -- I personally think this probably should be a part of his immediate focus).

So this is a way for the new administration to have an opportunity to make some back-channel calls to Olmert, Abu Mazen, and Arab leaders, without it being the total-all-consuming-foreign-policy-crisis on day one.
posted by zpousman at 7:15 AM on January 20, 2009


To be fair, there are wars going on fought by American servicemen/women right now in Iraq and Afghanistan. There have been eight deaths in Iraq alone this month.
posted by damn dirty ape at 7:29 AM on January 20, 2009


odinsdream: I think I can say with certainty that KokuRyu was being facetious.

Can't be sure. I'm giving the benefit of the doubt, though. KokuRyu?
posted by odinsdream at 7:34 AM on January 20, 2009


I should follow up by noting that it was actually unofficially stated that the withdrawal was timed around the inauguration. While it's certainly salient that Israel is holding its own elections, those are three weeks away -- as long as the entire war has lasted to date.

Israeli officials have said that troops would withdraw completely before Barack Obama's inauguration on Tuesday as the new U.S. president. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the plan has not been publicly announced....

"We didn't set out to conquer Gaza, we didn't set out to control Gaza, we don't want to remain in Gaza and we intend on leaving Gaza as fast as possible", Olmert said at a dinner with the leaders of Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Italy and the Czech Republic.


The OP's question was why, not whether.
posted by dhartung at 10:44 AM on January 20, 2009


Whoops, sorry, didn't realize there wasn't a subway line between Jerusalem and DC. BTW, how is this question not chatfilter?
posted by KokuRyu at 8:27 PM on January 21, 2009


Anyway, by withdrawing prior to the inauguration, Isreal is allowing the Obama administration to save face, because it would be awkward for Obama to be faced with this crisis on his first day in office, demand an Isreali withdrawal, and almost certainly be turned down. By withdrawing early, Isreal is leaving the Obama administration with options further down the road, and is not precipitating a an unsolvable crisis with the US, and thereby avoids antagonizing the incoming Obama admin. And perhaps Isreal doesn't really know what an Obama administration will do, so it makes sense to pull out to live to fight another day.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:30 PM on January 21, 2009


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