The Marker, Israel
When Obama Called a Ceasefire during “Pillar of Defense,” What Did He Know that We Didn’t Know?
By Yoram Gabai
Translated By Hannah Stork
5 December 2012
Edited by Jane Lee
Israel - The Marker - Original Article (Hebrew)
About two weeks ago, while Israel was still debating whether to end Operation Pillar of Defense in the Gaza Strip, the American president Barack Obama determined that a ceasefire would be signed within 48 hours; to clarify his stance, he sent his Secretary of State to oversee its execution.
What did Obama know that we didn’t know? The answer is essentially economic. The president was aware that Egypt was desperately in need of American assistance and a loan from the International Monetary Fund; and, no matter what, Egypt needed to align its stance with that of the United States. He also knew that an Israeli invasion of Gaza would “force” Egypt to sever diplomatic ties with Israel and would, one way or another, bring American economic sanctions against Egypt. Under these conditions, the Egyptians would be “forced” to mediate between Israel and Hamas, and Israel could not thwart the effort when both Middle Eastern stability and the United States’ position in the region would be in danger.
Israel has total sovereignty in determining its fate as long as it does not fundamentally or immediately interfere with the interests of the United States, which funds the Iron Dome system and a major part of Israel’s security aid. In addition, an Israeli invasion into Gaza in an attempt to destroy Hamas control would necessitate the establishment of Israeli martial law in Gaza for an extended period, which would have far-reaching economic implications for the national budget and for Israel’s economy.
Likewise, economic analysis indicates that there is no real Israeli option for a one-sided attack on Iran, and it’s doubtful whether the United States will attack Iran, even if the nation continues with nuclear armament. Without American backing, Israel will not be able to attack Iran since war there could last months or even years (there is no actual “exit strategy” from the war); one way or another, dependence on the United States is, in this case, critical.
Israel could attack only with the implicit consent of the United States, but there is no chance of reaching such an agreement due to American economic considerations. An American attack on Iran is first and foremost an economic and budgetary decision. The war in Iraq and Afghanistan is one of the central factors in America’s budget deficit — 8 percent of its GDP — and an accumulated national debt of 109 percent. An attack on Iran could lead to a very expensive land war, damage America’s efforts to minimize its military involvement in the world and entangle the nation in a prolonged fiscal cliff.
Due to economic considerations, the United States will prefer to act only through economic sanctions. If they fail, America will probably “permit” Iran to develop a nuclear weapon, as America has done with North Korea, Pakistan and also previously with Israel.
The economic reality determines many of the existing and expected decisions in the region; however, as the economist John Maynard Keynes said, decisions may be due to the dominance of other considerations. Even so, recent events in the Middle East show that the economic side is dominant and determines a major portion of security and political decisions.
The writer is the chairman of Peilim Investment Portfolio Management and the former head of State Revenues for the Ministry of Finance.
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