As of this writing, Israel is in day 12 of its offensive in Gaza to put an end to the Hamas rocket fire that has plagued the Jewish state.

Who benefits from this conflict?

Israel? If quiet is the desired result then Israel certainly benefits, but this is a massive operation that is putting many soldiers at risk. Israel would undertake it only if the government felt it was forced.

Can Hamas benefit from this? According to The Jerusalem Post, say Gaza has been set back 50 years. Hamas is likely to survive, but Gaza will be in ruins. Yet if Hamas can survive, it will earn a place of honor among others who wish for the destruction of Israel. What is important for Hamas, just as it was for Hezbollah in 2006, is not that it wins the conflict, but that it does not lose.

These two wars, with one side claiming victory without victory, have one link, a benefactor of both Hezbollah and Hamas: Iran.

With an Israeli blockade of Gaza and an international cold shoulder, Iran is the lifeline for Hamas right now. Through its money and weapons Iran is pulling Hamas’ strings, just as it did with Hezbollah. And it has every reason to do so now.

In the fall, analysts predicted that the weeks between the U.S. election and the inauguration of the new president would be the perfect window for an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, as President Bush would be unlikely to intervene during his waning hours and the new president would not yet have the authority. That window is quickly closing, and Israel is distracted from that goal. By pushing its Hamas pawns into a drawn-out conflict with Israel, Iran has created a distraction from its nuclear activities. The world’s eyes are focused on the Jewish state instead of the Islamic Republic.

Israel is certainly no stranger to multi-front wars, but its past wars have been against traditional armies and states. A battle with Hamas requires more precision and, because of Hamas’ battle stations within cities, care to avoid civilian casualties. Whether Israel has the resources to focus on Iran as well remains to be seen. Israel and the international community must not allow Iran to slip into the shadows and quietly continue its nuclear march.

J.L.