In what many observers believe to be a last chance to avoid an Israeli ground invasion of Gaza, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton abruptly left the Asian summit she was attending with the president in Cambodia and flew off to the Middle East to meet with Israeli and Egyptian officials in hopes of finding a formula for a cease fire.
"We want to ... send a clear message that it's in nobody's interest to see an escalation of the military conflict," U.S. deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters in Phnom Penh.
Clinton's mission appeared to signal growing U.S. alarm over the prospects of a threatened Israeli ground invasion of Gaza as Palestinian rocket fire and Israeli air strikes continued for a seventh day.
Washington has seemed powerless to affect unfolding events and has faced criticism of a hesitant response, and the Gaza crisis has dogged Obama on an Asia trip meant to show a "pivot" East as the United States winds down wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Rhodes said the onus remained on Hamas to halt its rocket barrages into Israel and stuck to the administration's stance that Israel had a right to defend itself.
But he said, "We all agree that the best way to resolve this is through diplomacy, so that you have a peaceful settlement that ends that rocket fire and allows for a broader calm in the region."
Clinton was due to meet Netanyahu on Wednesday and then go to Ramallah in the West Bank to meet with Palestinian Authority leaders, presumably President Mahmoud Abbas.
She was then to travel to Cairo, where Rhodes would say only that she would meet "Egyptian leaders."
That would likely mean an encounter with Egypt's Islamist President Mohamed Mursi, who has spoken by phone several times with Obama since the Gaza crisis erupted and is seen as a possible linchpin in getting Hamas to back down.
"Secretary Clinton will emphasize the United States' interest in a peaceful outcome that protects and enhances Israel's security and regional stability, an outcome that can lead to improved conditions for the civilian residents of Gaza, and that could re-open the path to fulfill the aspirations of Palestinians and Israelis for two states living side by side in peace and security," Rhodes said.
Meeting with Abbas is fruitless. He's almost as unpopular in Gaza as Netanyahu and Hamas won't listen to him. And Morsi's influence on Hamas is minimal, although there is an ideological affinity between the terrorists and the Muslim Brotherhood that may prove useful.
But Hamas doesn't want peace. They see great value in an Israeli ground assault as it would kill many innocent civilians thus creating a PR bonanza. The leader of Hamas, Khaled Meshal, is daring the IDF to come across the border.
A report out of Cairo quotes President Morsi as saying the conflict will be over by tonight:
"President Mohamed Morsi announced that the farce of Israeli aggression against the Gaza Strip will end on Tuesday," MENA said, quoting public remarks made by the country's head of state after the funeral of his sister.
"The efforts to conclude a truce between the Palestinian and Israeli sides will produce positive results in the next few hours," he was quoted as saying. Egypt has been trying to mediate a truce to end the conflict.
This may be wishful thinking, or it could mean an end to hostilities. We will await further developments.