U.S. seeks to de-escalate violence in the Middle East

The U.S. is hoping to aid in creating a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas amid growing violence. Hamas continues to fire rockets into Israel, and as CBS News' Imtiaz Tyab reports, thousands of Palestinians are fleeing Gaza as the threat of a ground invasion by Israel looms. Ishaan Tharoor, a foreign affairs columnist for The Washington Post, joins us with his analysis.

Video Transcript

LANA ZAK: Violence is escalating in the Middle East. Thousands of Palestinians are fleeing as Israeli air strikes bombard the Gaza Strip. The Gaza health ministry says more than 120 people have died, with even more wounded.

On the other side, Hamas continues to fire rockets into Israel. Officials say at least seven people there have been killed. Fears of a ground invasion by Israel are also growing.

But the White House says it's working to de-escalate the crisis. Imtiaz Tyab has the latest from Tel-Aviv.

IMTIAZ TYAB: One of Gaza's youngest victims is rushed to a hospital. Since fighting began five days ago, nearly 1,000 Palestinians have been wounded--


--as Israeli fighter jets pound the territory and artillery forces amass along Gaza's perimeter, carrying out coordinated strikes. This man's home was completely destroyed. He says, they hit us 10 times without warning.

Overnight, confusion over whether Israel had actually entered Gaza only added to the tension.


But what's become clear is it has no plans to end its campaign--


--since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's top advisor, Mark Regev--

MARK REGEV: Hamas must understand that shooting rockets into Israel is unacceptable. And ultimately, it hurts them more than it hurts us.

IMTIAZ TYAB: They haven't stopped.

MARK REGEV: And we're not going to stop.

IMTIAZ TYAB: The battle with Hamas over its indiscriminate rocket fire isn't Israel's only crisis. For days, mobs of Israeli Arabs and Jews have been brutally attacking each other while in the occupied West Bank, protests turned deadly when nine Palestinians were killed in confrontations with Israeli soldiers.

Israel is facing challenge after challenge on multiple fronts, and now the potential of even more after three rockets were fired at it from nearby Syria, an ally of archrival Iran, Lana.

LANA ZAK: Imtiaz, thank you. For more, Ishaan Tharoor joins me now. He is a foreign affairs columnist for the "Washington Post." Ishaan, thanks for being with us. The destruction is mounting. How far are both sides willing to go? And might this actually turn into an actual ground war?

ISHAAN THAROOR: Well, absolutely. As you said, the destruction is mounting. The death tolls are rising. It's only been a few days. And you have more than 100 Palestinian dead in Gaza, including many children.

The death toll, though, asymmetric, is still-- is also rising in Israel. And you're seeing the violence spiral across the region or across both the occupied territories and Israel proper. You're seeing violence in the West Bank. You're seeing clashes between Palestinian citizens of Israel and Israeli citizens in cities within Israel's 1948 border.

So it's a situation-- it's a kind of escalation that we haven't seen in quite some time. And there is no indication right now that anything is about to be tamped down.

We don't know, of course, if Israel is actually going to be mounting a ground invasion. They said-- they told the international press on Thursday night that that's what was happening.

But that seemed to have been-- seemed to-- seems to have been a bit of a misdirection. And instead, they used their considerable air power and strategic prowess to target what they dub as Hamas's tunnels, the Islamist group Hamas's tunnel network, beneath Gaza.

And we believe there have been significant Hamas casualties in these missile strikes by the Israelis. All the while, of course, Hamas continues to fire rockets from the Gaza Strip. And you're seeing an escalation that few political actors are able to sort of tamp down.

LANA ZAK: Yeah-- so sudden and rapid escalation. Talk to us a little bit about how this situation has, in fact, strengthened Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's position after failing to form a government just last week.

ISHAAN THAROOR: Right. Well, it is a very cynical reading of what is a very grave situation. But there's no way to see what's happened in the past few days as anything but a political boon for Netanyahu.

As you said, last week, he failed to form a government. This has been a recurring theme for him for the past two years in this endless cycle of elections that Israel has been having. And the mandate to form a government went to a coalition of parties that are trying to, essentially, shove Netanyahu aside after many years of him being prime minister.

But what we saw this week, the violence, which did not begin with Gaza-- of course, you have to remember that the roots of this initial-- of this phase of tensions began for weeks in Jerusalem, where far-right Israeli groups, many of which are backed by Netanyahu, were carrying out various provocations against the Palestinian communities in East Jerusalem. And that sowed the seeds for the escalation we've seen now.

Now, in the coming-- in these-- in the past few days, this coalition of parties that were seeking to find a deal to replace Netanyahu has splintered. You've seen some far-right parties say that they cannot form a coalition with one Arab party which is part of it.

So this has all played well into Netanyahu's hand. He has, for a long time, cast himself as Israel's wartime commander, as the only person capable of steering the country in a time of crisis. And this is another crisis in which he has placed himself at the helm.

LANA ZAK: Yeah-- an interesting point that the spark actually originated in Jerusalem. And now we're seeing all this destruction in Gaza. Let's ask also the flip side. How has this conflict impacted Hamas's position among Palestinians?

ISHAAN THAROOR: Well, we'll see by the time this winds down. And we don't know when this is going to wind down or how badly degraded Hamas's capabilities will be and how ruinous the damage in Gaza--

Of course, we've seen this before. Hamas has long maintained its capacity to strike Israel. And it's wielded it in various ways to extract concessions in the past as well as to rally support among Palestinians who are very frustrated with the status quo that many of them find intolerable in Israel.

And so absolutely, at this moment, Hamas has, to a certain extent, won a degree of sympathy for Palestinians who are very frustrated with the Palestinian Authority. That is the kind of political entity that technically runs the Palestinian-occupied territories, but has been quite feckless, is dogged by allegations of corruption, and is in a context where, essentially, you have Palestinian leadership quite rudderless.

And so Hamas has tried to fill that vacuum a little bit by rallying to the cause of Jerusalem, by striking at Israel at a time when Palestinians really feel the extent of their own systematic dispossession at the hands of the Israeli state. At the same time, we've also seen Israel periodically do what's referred to as "mowing the grass"-- that is, you know, target Hamas quite aggressively in Gaza, but never actually defeat it. And so we'll see how Hamas emerges from this.

At this point, we're not-- we don't believe there's going to be a major ground incursion because the Israelis deem that kind of offensive too costly. And in that context, Hamas is always going to manage to stay put.

LANA ZAK: A very curious moment late last evening when we were trying to understand if, in fact, a ground attack was taking place given the IDF's statement-- so, Ishaan, where do negotiations stand for a ceasefire at this moment? And what would a ceasefire bring?

ISHAAN THAROOR: Well, I think it's a bit too early to talk about that right now. There is-- there are attempts taking place to forge some kind of show of diplomacy. You have various Arab countries in the region, Egypt, the Quataris, and some others trying to press Hamas to consider a ceasefire. They seem more willing, at this point, than Israel, which seems keener to further take the-- to take the offensive further.

What a ceasefire looks like will probably ultimately look like what it has in the past, a situation where hostilities cease and we get this very fragile, delicate balance of Hamas still in power in the Gaza Strip, of its blockaded population still chafing under Hamas rule, but also deeply embittered by the controls placed around them by the Israeli state. And you will see elsewhere in the rest of Israel and the West Bank a scenario where the root causes of the violence that we're seeing right now will still not be addressed.

LANA ZAK: All right. Ishaan Tharoor, thank you for joining us.