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Israel strikes old foe amid new realities of Arab Spring

Israel and Gaza enter a second day of deadly exchanges that erupted after a Hamas military leader was killed in an Israeli missile attack. Israelis maintain that deadly strike was in retaliation for Palestinian rocket attacks. ITV's Paul Davies reports.

News analysis

TEL AVIV, Israel -  Unilateral Israeli military attacks are not unexpected in this part of the world, as the wars with Gaza in 2008 and Lebanon in 2006 show. 

In the past, Israel, with help from the United States, could rely on the acquiescence of the Egyptian government to do nothing. This week's attacks, the first large-scale Israeli operation since Arab Spring revolts erupted and toppled governments throughout the region, will seriously test whether the United States and Israel can still depend on Egypt's new government to hold the line.

Egypt's reaction to Israel's bombing was swift.

Baz Ratner / Reuters

Israeli soldiers watch as an Iron Dome launcher fires an interceptor rocket near the southern city of Beersheba on Thursday.

"The Israelis must realize that this aggression is unacceptable and would only lead to instability in the region and would negatively and greatly impact the security of the region," Egypt's President Mohammed Morsi said in a televised address on Thursday. 

In a post-revolutionary Egypt, one where the country's foreign policy is expected to be more closely aligned with the will of the people, the latest round of Israeli strikes is sure to test Egypt's willingness go along with Israel and the United States. More importantly, it will test whether the United States' international priorities still hold sway in Egypt. 

ANALYSIS: Israel, Gaza slide closer to war neither side wants

But whether or not the Israeli strikes on Hamas anger the Egyptian government, the key question is, what can Egypt actually do? 

Egypt, which has acted as a mediator between Hamas and Israel since 2007, recalled its ambassador in protest to what it called Israel's aggression on the people of Gaza. It has summoned the Israeli ambassador to Cairo for a diplomatic dress down.  It has also pushed for a United Nations Security Council meeting and will convene an Arab League gathering.

Egypt's ruling Freedom and Justice Party, and by extension the Muslim Brotherhood, has condemned the attacks and called for a strong international response. Already there are protest rallies and marches in solidarity with the people of Gaza being organized in Cairo.

Israel: Three civilians killed by rockets fired from Gaza as violence escalates

Many in Egypt aren't sure what any of these moves will amount to. At the end of the day, any international measure condemning Israel will have to go through the U.N. and will most likely be vetoed by the United States.

So Israeli actions in Gaza will test the United States' evolving relationship with Egypt post-Hosni Mubarak, the U.S.-backed dictator who was deposed in 2011.

Three Israelis were killed when their apartment building was struck by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip, an attack that intensified tensions between Israel and Palestinian militants. The incident came after Hamas' top military commander and seven others were killed in a series of airstrikes by the Jewish state. NBC's Martin Fletcher reports.

The White House said on Wednesday that Obama had spoken to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Egypt's Morsi, and reiterated U.S. support for Israel's right to self-defense in light of rocket attacks from Gaza.

"The president urged Prime Minister Netanyahu to make every effort to avoid civilian casualties. The two agreed that Hamas needs to stop its attacks on Israel to allow the situation to de-escalate," the statement said.  "The president also spoke with President Morsi given Egypt's central role in preserving regional security. In their conversation, President Obama condemned the rocket fire from Gaza into Israel and reiterated Israel's right to self-defense."

These and other initial statements out of Washington have been received with great disappointment on the Arab street.  Unlike in the past, the Arab street increasingly matters to more responsive Arab governments.

Hatem Moussa / AP

Palestinian mourners carry the body of Hamas' top military commander Ahmed Jabari, who was killed in an Israeli strike on Wednesday, during his funeral in Gaza City, on Thursday,

Many in Egypt blame Palestinians for a week of rocket fire into southern Israel, but not the Israeli strikes on Gaza over the past week that have killed civilians, including young children. On Arab talk shows, news programs and press, many are denouncing Obama for failing to live up to the promise he made when he traveled to Cairo in 2009 and offered Muslims "a new beginning" and "mutual respect.

Four years ago, under the same pretext it used in carrying out Operation Pillars of Defense, Israel carried out Operation Cast Lead to stop Palestinian rocket fire into southern Israel.  It is hard to say that the operation succeeded -- Hamas not only remains firmly in power and it has grown stronger in Gaza.

Israel acknowledged that since Cast Lead, Palestinian militant groups have acquired new longer-range rockets and missiles and Hamas has not been weakened operationally to the point its not a threat.

If Israel's military operation failed to stop rocket fire four years ago, why would it succeed this time around?

Nir Elias / Reuters

Two sides exchange deadly airstrikes, rocket attacks.