The timing of the Israeli attack on Hamas in Gaza was undoubtedly influenced by a desire to deliver a knockout blow before Barack Obama comes into office. Last June, during the campaign, Obama had expressed stalwart support for Israel, winning applause from the pro-Israel lobby as he pledged, "I will ensure that Israel can defend itself from any threat, from Gaza to Tehran." But there was no way of knowing if his support would be as unqualified as that of the Bush administration.
Last July, on a trip to Israel, Obama said that if anyone was sending rockets into his house where his daughters were sleeping, he would do "everything in my power to stop that."
Today, he told reporters that the situation in Gaza and Israel was a "source of deep concern" to him and he would engage "immediately" after Jan. 20 in trying to resolve the conflict.
It is hard to predict what the situation will be on Jan. 20, but it is clearly Israel's intention to neutralize Hamas and quickly try to engage Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah administration on the West Bank in negotiations. For that, Israel will need American support.
Aaron David Miller, who has advised six secretaries of state on Arab-Israeli negotiations, has attracted attention with an article in Newsweek saying, "The days of America's exclusive ties to Israel may be coming to an end."
Citing the issue of Jewish settlements on Palestinian land, Miller says "the new [Obama] administration will have to be tough [on Israel] ... much tougher than either Bill Clinton or George W. Bush, if it is serious about Arab-Israeli peacemaking." He asks whether it makes sense for America to support a policy of making life unbearable for 1.5 million Gazans.
Obama would surely prefer to put the Middle East situation on a back burner while he wrestles with the economic crisis. But events may not permit him to. And so the 44th president will become the latest to try to deal with the oldest established conflict in the world.