RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And we turn now to Shibley Telhami. He's a professor of peace and development at the University of Maryland and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Good morning.
Professor SHIBLEY TELHAMI (Peace and Development, University of Maryland; Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution): Good morning to you.
MONTAGNE: What impact do you expect these attacks to have on Hamas?
Prof. TELHAMI: Well, that's, of course, the million-dollar question. I mean, in a way, you have to ask yourself what the Israeli objectives were beyond responding to the rocket attacks. Obviously, it was in part that, but they could have done it like they had in the past, you know, on a smaller scale and in a way to just negotiate another ceasefire agreement. It looks to me like this had been in planning for a long time. It's massive, and it does suggest the Israelis are not anxious to enter into another ceasefire agreement quickly, especially given what they've been saying about Hamas in comparing it to al-Qaeda. Well, if that's the case, then we're in for, you know, a long fight, because I think what you're going to see from Hamas, obviously, is they're going to retaliate in a big way. And unfortunately we might even see, as they've been suggesting, attacks inside Israel itself, and maybe a renewal of suicide bombings, which, fortunately, a ceasefire had helped stop.
So, I don't know - I don't think that this, in the short term, is going to reduce their will to fight. I think what's going to happen is that they're on the defensive politically. Clearly, the Israelis had attacked the police - if there's one success for Hamas in Gaza itself, if you look at it - you know, throughout the ceasefire, they hadn't gotten their objectives; they hadn't gotten the removal of the sanctions against them; the public was suffering at some level. But they have been succeeding in policing Gaza very effectively. That's one thing, reducing crime, you know, imposing order. And obviously the attack now, in some ways, creates some chaos and weakens some of those successes.
Prof. TELHAMI: How they will respond remains to be seen.
MONTAGNE: I think, also - and to go onto what influence the United States might have, especially the Bush administration; it's got less than a month left in office. But to - a reminder that it was Hamas who ended its ceasefire, which, in theory, is what began all this.
Prof. TELHAMI: Well, you know, both sides were moving toward ending a ceasefire because neither side really got their objectives. I mean, Hamas entered into this thinking they're going to get the blockade removed. They didn't, in the end, get it removed. I talked to the Egyptian mediator, Omar Suleiman, just before the ceasefire went into force, and it was clear that's what Hamas was demanding. They didn't get it in writing, but they thought they had gotten implicit agreement that if the ceasefire really does hold, they're going to get it removed. The Israelis expected the release of their soldier; it didn't happen. The Israelis were also worried strategically, with the Obama administration coming, whether or not Obama will start reaching out to Hamas and changing the policy of the Bush administration. So...
MONTAGNE: Which, by the way - which, Professor Telhami, which brings us to the whole question of, A, what can the Bush administration do with just a month in office? And maybe more to the point, what does this mean to President-elect Barack Obama?
Prof. TELHAMI: Well, on the first one, on the Bush administration, I don't think they're likely to do much. I think they will let the Israelis run the show. I don't think the - I think that's what they've done in the past; that's what they'll do now. With Obama, I think it's going to pose difficult choices for him. One thing is it shows that you have to put some kind of Arab-Israeli peace plan in place very early, because if you don't, to rally people behind something, you're going to be preempted every step of the way. I mean, somebody is going to do it. The Hamas is going to do it; Hezbollah's going to do it; the Israelis are going to do it. So, - and then it puts you on a reactive mode. You always don't have the best of choices. You're forced by others to react.
And he's going to have to - if I were in his place now, I would do the - what he's doing, which is not commenting on this, because it's only one president at a time. But I would put the team to - in place to have some plan, some positive plan, some alternative future, for people in the region that I would put in place very quickly because you need to rally the public in the region and the governments behind something that would be an alternative to the violence. And if you don't do that, you're going to be preempted every step of the way. This issue is not going to go away. You can't ignore it because it's too important for the region; it's too important for the international community; it's too important for the United States.
MONTAGNE: Thank you very much.
Prof. TELHAMI: My pleasure.
MONTAGNE: Shibley Telhami is a professor for peace and development at the University of Maryland and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
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