In war, you’re only as strong as your army, and in diplomacy, you’re only as strong as your allies. This week, as the tanks rolled back to base, it was clear where Israel’s strength lay.
War always tests the support of allies. It often strengthens it. Nothing could better illustrate this than the events of 100 years ago we remember this week, when a chain reaction of bilateral alliances triggered the First World War.
Israel’s Gaza operation has likewise tested support. Until this week, its allies had generally been onboard. World leaders repeatedly asserted Israel’s right to defend itself, and there was more balanced reporting of events in the world media. Even the United Nations criticised Hamas.
But those allies, defending the objectives and rationale of the Gaza offensive, fell silent when it came to the conduct of it. Even Israeli spokesmen like Mark Regev were stumped. It’s difficult to defend the killing of children and the bombing hospitals.
Then, in recent days, silence gave way to condemnation as yet another UN school was hit. The IDF said it was aiming for jihadists on bikes when it killed ten people hiding in a designated shelter, but by that point it didn’t really matter.
This was the third school in as many weeks. For many, it was ‘three strikes and you’re out.’
Cue the opprobrium. America called it “disgraceful”. The UN called it “a war crime”. The UK called it “appalling”. Israel, suddenly, looks very alone.
So if ever there was a time for the world’s Jewish communities to stand up and be counted, it is now, because this week could mark the start of a seismic shift in Israel’s fight to avoid pariah status. Such a label would spell catastrophe for the Jewish state, as it battles a burgeoning boycott movement across the world.
Given the precarious state of international relations, it was unfortunate that the condemnation drew nothing but scorn from Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. Even dovish Justice Minister Tzipi Livni gave the proverbial two fingers to the UN, saying “Hapsu oti” – a semi-scornful “lots of luck to you”.
Such is the Israeli mentality right now. From Tel Aviv, this must just sound like the same old noise. But out here, we have all noticed a distinct change in tone.
Like buses, bad news seems to come together, so it was almost inevitable that reports should emerge this week that Israel was spying on John Kerry’s phone-calls during his recently-aborted peace talks. If true, this will inflame tensions further.
It may not matter. The world may revert to type once it has finished being apoplectic, tapping on Israel’s door for those lucrative trade deals and advanced weapons sales. Far more likely, however, is that relations – like Gaza – will take years to rebuild.
We’ll know just how bad it is next month, when the world’s nations meet for the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Where once they walked out on Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, now they may do so on Ron Prosor, Israel’s man at the UN. It’s a lonely lectern when there’s nobody listening.
Until then, Israel has more immediate priorities, but as the tanks roll back to base, the commanders will hand over to diplomats, who will act like paramedics in trying to revive Israel’s reputation. It is our job to help them.