Anne Penketh: Lack of condemnation as good as approval for Israel

Israel will consider that it has a green light to pursue its strategic goal of bringing down Hamas in the Gaza Strip in the absence of international condemnation and a power vacuum in the United States for three more weeks.

The initial reaction from Britain and the United States will have been interpreted in Israel as weak. Neither Gordon Brown nor the Foreign Office called on Israel to halt its bombing raids as the Palestinian death toll rose. But a Downing Street spokesman called on the "Gazan militants" to "cease all rocket attacks on Israel immediately".

Mr Brown's expression of concern revived uncomfortable memories of his predecessor Tony Blair who rejected international calls for a ceasefire by Israel during its 34-day war on Lebanon in 2006. Only yesterday, after the UN Security Council had spoken, did the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, call for an "immediate halt to all violence". In Washington, while the White House called for restraint, Condoleezza Rice, the outgoing Secretary of State, unequivocally blamed the Hamas rocket attacks on Israel for provoking the bloodiest strikes on Gaza in living memory.

Israel can also profit from the divisions in the Arab world, where states such as Egypt and Jordan share its concerns about the Hamas extremists, although the Arab "street" is unanimous in its support of the Palestinians as the demonstrations from Damascus to Baghdad showed.

The Security Council statement mentioned neither Israel nor Hamas by name while calling for an "immediate halt to all violence". By failing to apportion blame, the statement allowed both sides in the conflict to claim diplomatic support. The Palestinian representative, Riyad Mansour, said it was clearly aimed at Israel and that the Palestinians would now be waiting to see if Israel stopped its "aggression". But the US ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad, said: "Clearly, in that context, Israel has the right of self-defence and nothing in this press statement should be read as anything but that."