Earlier this month, as the conflict between Israel and the Islamic militants in Gaza grew more deadly and intense, we warned of the potential of a full-scale war that could spread through the Middle East.
Today, after more than three weeks of fighting — with more than 1,000 dead and thousands injured — the region is teetering on the brink of disaster.
Monday’s declaration by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that “there is no war more just than this,” and Hamas’ defiant response that “the occupation will pay the price for the massacres against civilians and children” left little doubt about what’s in store for the people of the region.
While the Israelis and Palestinians agree on virtually nothing, they both rejected a call from the U.N. Security Council for an immediate “humanitarian cease-fire.” The council’s action was not binding because it was not in the form of a resolution.
Nonetheless, the renewed rocket attacks by Hamas and other Islamic militant groups and Israel’s airstrikes and its ground military campaign to destroy the tunnels that run from Gaza, clearly illustrate the need for urgent action to bring the conflict to an end.
The death toll on both sides keeps rising, but the Palestinians are taking the brunt of the fighting. As of Wednesday, 1,361 had been killed, with the vast majority civilians, including many women and children.
The Israeli military said Wednesday a total of 56 of its soldiers had been killed, including four in a mortar attack on southern Israel. Two Israeli civilians and a Thai citizen working in Israel also have been killed.
Left to their own devices, the long-bitter enemies will continue the bloodletting, and as they do, the entire Middle East will be drawn in.
It’s for this reason the United Nations must not give up on finding a solution, and the Obama administration must continue its peacekeeping efforts.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has spent a lot of time in the region not only talking to the Israelis and Palestinians, but the leaders of neighboring countries. Though the administration’s critics are quick to point out that Kerry’s diplomatic efforts have fallen short, it’s naive to believe there’s a magic wand that can be waved to end the battle.
The fact is that each side has demands it wants met before agreeing to a cease-fire. Finding common ground is a monumental challenge.
There’s a lot at stake — and not only for the Middle East. Violence has flared in European cities as pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli groups have faced off in demonstrations. Anti-Semitism in cities such as Paris is on the rise, resulting in some Jews taking refuge in Israel.
The rising death toll of Palestinian civilians has triggered demonstrations in the United States and other Western countries, and is causing Hezbollah and other Islamic extremists groups to beat the drums of war.
Before the ticking bomb that is the Israeli-Hamas conflict goes off, leaders should ask themselves this question: How many deaths and injuries must occur before a cease-fire is declared?
In every conflict, there’s a point of no return, and when that point is reached, surrender is the only option.
If the Israelis and Hamas militants don’t find a way to immediately stop the fighting, this could go on for months, with an outcome too ghastly to contemplate.