As the war in Gaza enters its third week, we are offered torrents of analysis not on how to stop the bloodletting- no one has an answer for that- but on the possible causes of the crisis. Suggestions in that domain range from one of a full-sale war of civilizations to Hamas's attempt at breaking the Israeli quarantine that has dealt serious blows to the movement's numerous business interests in Gaza.
However, reasons more mundane may also be considered.
For example, Israel's Defence Minister and Labour Party leader Ehud Barrak may well want save his camp from meltdown in next spring's general election. His colleague, Foreign Minister and Kadima leader Tzipi Livni may also a personal agenda. Accused by her opponents of being a soft touch, presumably because she is a woman, Livni may wish to cast herself in the role of war leader modeled on Golda Meir. As for Ehud Olmert, the prime minister agonizing on a cheap political life-support machine, he may want to leave behind a better impression than the one he created during the war against Hezbollah in Lebanon two years ago.
The spectre that haunts all this cast of characters is named Benjamin Netanyahu, the Likud leader, who opposed the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza that, in time, gave Hamas its opportunity to carve a fiefdom, smash its domestic opponents, and start its rocket game against Israel.
Yet another reason why Israel decided to hit Hamas at this time might be related to the Jewish state's fear of the Islamic Republic in Tehran. After mote than a year of heated debate, the Israeli elite have decided that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's threat of wiping Israel off the map must be taken seriously. The prospect of Israel hitting Iranian unclear installations is no longer fantastical, although such a move could do irreparable harm to Irano-Israeli ties even under a new regime in Tehran.
Thus, if Israel were to hit Iran it would have to be certain that Iran's allies and clients close by do not open new fronts against the Jewish state. Right now ran has three regional assets: the Baathist regime in Damascus, the Nasrallah-Aoun duo in Beirut and Hamas in Gaza.
Israel, with help from Turkey, ahs already all but neutralized the Syrians with prospects of are turn to peace talks and the return of the Golan Heights. It is now certain that Syria will not risk entering a larger regional war simply to please the mullahs of Tehran.
As for the Nasrallah-Aoun tandem, the Israelis think that they are no longer in a position to pose a clear and present danger. Aoun will certainly not invite the Maronites to join a jihad in support of Ahmadinejad. As for Nasrallah, his mythical victories notwithstanding, he knows that any new round of fighting next time will end differently. In any case, few would be surprised if, after dealing with Hamas in Gaza, the Israelis decided to take the Hezbollah to the dentist once again to eliminate the latest teeth supplied by Tehran.
That leaves Hamas that, having destroyed its ties with virtually all Arab states, is left with no choice but to look to Tehran for support.
Tehran propaganda claims that Hamas has been converted to the Khomeinist brand of "victory through martyrdom". "Our brethren in Hamas have learned the lessons of Hussein's Ashura," boasted the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), the official mouthpiece of the regime on Tuesday. IRNA seems to believe that Hamas is now a Sunni version of Hezbollah rather than a branch of the more sophisticate Muslim Brotherhood.
Nevertheless, it is unlikely that Hamas would enter a war whose sole aim would be to allow Tehran to develop nuclear weapons. The Israelis, however, seem to have decided to take no risks. It is better to defang Hamas before attacking Iran.
The fact that the US is caught between two administrations provides an added opportunity for Israel. Barack Obama, whatever the truth of his supposedly secret sympathies for the Palestinians, will have to cope with the facts on the ground.
Having said all that, it is clear that what is happening in Gaza is a tragedy. It is a tragedy in the strict classical sense of the term, that is to say a drama in which everyone loses. By the time this column was being written Gaza already counted more than 4000 dead or injured. Proportionately that would be equal to some 200,000 Egyptians or Iranians.
Hamas has already lost because it has destroyed the biggest achievement of the Palestinians since 1967, that is to separate the issue of Palestine from the bigger power rivalries in the region and beyond. One again, the fate of Palestine depends on foreign powers, this time including Iran, with their own agendas.
Israel will also lose because it lacks the unity and resolve to pursue this war until a new status quo is created in Gaza. Israel may win in military terms, as it did in Lebanon, but would lose politically because it would leave behind a smaller but emboldened Hamas still capable of holding Gazans hostage to a strategy ultimately decided by others.
The so-called "international community" is also a loser. For despite the various leaders and diplomats running hither and thither like headless chicken, it lacks the will to see reality, let alone cope with it.