On the Israeli side of the de facto border with the Gaza Strip, last night saw the first Israeli deaths due to Palestinian militant rocket fire. Across the line, some 19 Palestinians are reportedly dead in the latest round of fighting, among them at least one baby, a pregnant teenager and a seven-year-old girl. Leave aside that further escalation could imperil much of President Obama's Mideast agenda, the moral imperative should remain the animating factor for the man holding the most powerful office in the world to call for an end to this fighting. Unfortunately, that's not how things are shaking out: the State Department seems to have come down firmly on the side of demanding caution in, rather than a halt to, fighting.
Maybe Obama needs the right inspiration. For this he could look to someone he's cited before as a model: Ronald Reagan. The Gipper always had reservations about Israel's attempt to root out the PLO by invading Lebanon in 1982. "Right now Israel has lost a lot of world sympathy," he wrote in his diary. Later that summer, according to a Reuters account, Reagan wrote that an Israeli bombing campaign and artillery attacks against Beirut
led King Fahd of Saudi Arabia to call the White House "begging me to do something.""I told him I was calling P.M. Begin immediately. And I did -- I was angry -- I told him it had to stop or our entire future relationship was endangered. I used the word holocaust deliberately & said the symbol of war was becoming a picture of a 7-month-old baby with its arms blown off."
What's right about Reagan's exhortation is not his apparent holocaust reference, but that he was moved by American interests—and indeed what he thought were Israel's interests—to act and make demands, even of an ally attacking its sworn enemy. Even top Israeli strategists are questioning the wisdom of the rapid escalation of fighting by Israel, as with its assassination of a Hamas military leader after an admittedly shaky ceasefire had been put in place. Despite this pressure on Israel, Reagan retained his public image as a pro-Israel president. The lesson for Obama—to be like the Gipper—is that there is more room for boldness and frank talk with Israel than we have seen so far in this latest flare-up. Obama would do well to follow in Reagan's footsteps and act to prevent more violence, more damage to American and Israeli interests, and more deaths among the people of Israel and Gaza.