Editorial: This vicious circle must be broken

Six days has a particular resonance in the recent history of the Middle East. In 1967, that is how long it took Israeli forces to seize control of huge swathes of its borderlands from its neighbours in coordinated operations that entered the annals of warfare. But the six days since Israel triggered the latest eruption of the conflict with Gaza by assassinating the head of the military wing of Hamas have brought only more conflict and nothing like a resolution. The considerations now are far more complex and more finely balanced.

As of last night, the death toll was 95 Palestinians and three Israelis; along with extensive damage to buildings and infrastructure in Gaza. But with rockets still being launched intermittently into Israel, the stated purpose of Israel's action – to halt the growing number of attacks from Gaza – has not been attained.

It is just possible that a combination of international pressure and intensive efforts by Egypt and Turkey will have secured a ceasefire by this morning, though reports that Israel was suing for peace were immediately dismissed. If there is no ceasefire, however, Israel will have to weigh the risks of looking weak against the dangers of a ground operation – dangers that will not just be physical but also debilitating, once again, to Israel's international standing.

Until yesterday, the Western response to the latest violence had been notably sympathetic to Israel's security interests, with seemingly coordinated calls from the US, Britain and others for "de-escalation", otherwise undefined. Any sympathy, however, is fast running out, to be replaced by frustration, anger and in time – once again – resignation.

This is a cycle that must not be allowed to repeat itself. The region as a whole is quite volatile enough without the added instability from these periodic – and destructive – conflicts between Israel and Gaza. In the absence of a lasting Middle East solution, which seems as far away as ever, that should be a more limited, and perhaps more realistic goal.