The fact that cooler heads seem to have prevailed is a relief for those fearing an escalation of wider regional violence. Yet, there is no denying that the Arab uprisings have altered the dynamics of the Israel-Hamas relationship. The visits of Arab foreign ministers, Egypt's prime minister, and the Arab League secretary-general, as well as even reports that the Moroccans are planning on setting up a field hospital in Gaza, may all be symbolic, but this is important symbolism. For the first time since Israel came to control the Gaza Strip in June 1967 -- and no doubt a good deal of time before then, when Egypt was in control of the territory -- Gazans are no longer alone. Still, as Egyptian officials try to hammer out a truce, the operative word is "yet" -- as in, "the sky has not fallen ... yet."
What if diplomacy fails? What if, while 90 percent of a deal is worked out, Hamas's rocketeers actually hit something of tangible value inside Israel and kill a lot of people? What if Israel's not-so-surgical strikes kill 50, 60, or 100 people in an instant, instead of the three, four, or five victims that they have so far? What if the Israelis launch a ground invasion of Gaza? That's the nightmare scenario, but it doesn't seem so far-fetched in light of the last six days of violence.
The current hostilities between the Israel Defense Forces and Hamas, combined with the political changes across the region, belie the notion that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not a central strategic concern of the United States. Belittling the conflict's importance had been the refuge of observers bereft of ideas on how to forge a settlement in the Middle East, and it was often invoked in Washington to deride peace-process dead-enders -- analysts who saw an opportunity to "restart negotiations" where others saw nothing but hopelessness.
Let's not kid ourselves -- the prospects for a peace agreement look as dismal as ever. It is extraordinarily unlikely that there is an opportunity for talks now after militants in Gaza threatened Tel Aviv and Jerusalem with rocket fire. For the minority of Israelis who have not already done so, huddling in safe rooms and bomb shelters in Rishon LeZion, Ashkelon, and Herzliya will convince them that an Israeli withdrawal from territory in the West Bank, which peace would require, is foolish.
But it is impossible to ignore the inconvenient fact that this conflict lies at the heart of U.S. interests in the Middle East. If Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decides he has no choice but to send in ground forces, Washington will likely express its support for Israel's right to self-defense -- and Egypt's president will not be able to continue on his current constructive path. That may be a principled and politically sound position for the Obama administration to take, but it would not look that way from Cairo. This would place Morsy -- a lifelong enemy of Zionism -- in the position of having to take a tougher stand, which could ultimately lead to the unraveling of the Egypt-Israel peace treaty.
That should be enough for U.S. policymakers to sit up and take notice. The treaty has been a cornerstone of the U.S. position in the Middle East for the last 33 years -- and by calling it into question, Israel's Operation Pillar of Defense has placed U.S. interests are at stake in Gaza.