More at stake than you think in Gaza
As the world holds its breath to see whether the fragile cease-fire between Gaza and Israel will hold, it is worth remembering that the lessons learned from this round of violence will have potentially far-reaching implications, for both the war against terrorism and the quest for peace in the Middle East.
By Daniel Taub, Israel's Ambassador to Britain
Whether it is Ansar al-Sharia in Libya, Lashkar-e Jhangvi in Pakistan or al-Qaeda around the world, terrorist organisations have been watching Hamas and its fellow terrorist groups with close attention. In particular, they are keen to know whether, by adopting a deliberate strategy of embedding itself within the heart of the civilian population, Hamas has discovered the Achilles' heel of states confronting terrorist threats.
In hiding weapons in private homes and locating its rocket launchers and command centres among public buildings, Hamas itself is imitating tactics learned from Hezbollah. In its own conflict with Israel, Hezbollah entrenched its katyushas and terrorist units within homes and villages in south Lebanon, confident that international outrage at civilian casualties would tie Israel's hands in responding.
This copycatting of "successful" terrorist strategies is not new. Almost the entire toolbox of terrorist atrocities over the decades, from hijacking planes in the 1970s to suicide bombers today, has spread from terrorist group to terrorist group, and from region to region, through a grotesque pattern of imitation.
Hamas, of course, has not simply imitated Hezbollah, but has taken its cynical strategy to a new level, with schools, hospitals and mosques - and even fake television vans - recruited as part of its attempt to shield itself, not only behind its own population, but behind international outrage at civilian casualties.
Not only Israel, but every country facing a terrorist threat has an interest in ensuring that the brutal tactics in play in Gaza are not seen to have succeeded. This means having the courage to stand firm and to engage in the unbearably difficult exercise of responding, proportionately but effectively, to terrorists wherever they may be.
To do otherwise would to be to broadcast an open invitation to terrorist groups to set up shop inside hospitals and kindergartens, not only in Gaza but throughout the world.
Another group which will be drawing their own conclusions from the conflict is the population of Israel. The lessons they draw will clearly impact on their approach to future security challenges, but at the same time it will also affect their approach towards any future peace deal.
The international community insists, and rightly so, that the only lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be a negotiated settlement between the two sides. If the negotiations do restart, then Israel will undoubtedly be called on to make significant territorial withdrawals from the West Bank as part of a peace package. When the international community urges Israelis to make this sacrifice, it should be aware that Israelis will naturally think back to the last time they were urged to pull out of land for peace, and the value of the reassurances they were given at that time.
In 2005 the world urged Israel to pull 9,000 civilians and all its soldiers out of the Gaza Strip as a step to advance prospects for peace. At that time it tried to assuage Israel's security concerns, insisting that were the withdrawal to turn sour, the legitimacy afforded by the withdrawal would guarantee international support for a firm security response to acts of aggression.
The relative silence of the international community in the face of the thousands of rockets and mortars, fired from the very areas evacuated by Israel, in the years since the pullout has begun to raise questions among many Israelis regarding the value of such international assurances.
Such questions have only been sharpened by the conflict of the past eight days, and the need to confront the sophisticated long-range missiles smuggled into Gaza since Israel's withdrawal.
When Israelis face rocket and missiles onslaught from territory they were urged to leave, the international community needs to stand by its assurance that Israel would be entitled to respond with the force and for the time necessary to protect its civilians. Failure to do so would not only be a betrayal of the promises it gave yesterday, but would also undermine its credibility in seeking to help reach a peace deal tomorrow.
While the world watches and hopes for a ceasefire to take hold in Gaza, it should remember that other groups are watching too. The lessons they learn from this conflict will have long-lasting effects, both for the international fight against terrorism and the chances of reaching a lasting peace.