Quietly and very much behind the scenes, Israel and Egypt are carrying on
discussions in Cairo that could lead to the further easing of restrictions on
the Gaza Strip and prevent a swift rearming of Hamas, an Israeli government
official confirmed on Thursday.
A day earlier, former Mossad director
Efraim Halevy said at the Bar-Ilan University Ambassadors’ Forum that he
believed Israel was beginning to forge an official policy in Gaza that would
become clear after the January 22 election.
Operation Pillar of Defense, which the IDF launched in response to Hamas rocket
attacks, ended with an amorphous Egyptian-brokered cease-fire whereby Israel
pledged to “stop all hostilities in the Gaza Strip,” and Hamas agreed that “all
Palestinian factions shall stop all hostilities from the Gaza Strip against
Israel, including rocket attacks and all attacks along the
According to the text of the agreement – the first time Israel
has committed to anything in writing with Hamas – “opening the [Gaza] crossings
and facilitating the movements of people and transfer of goods and refraining
from restricting residents’ free movements and targeting residents in border
areas and procedures of implementation shall be dealt with after 24 hours from
the start of the cease-fire.”
Talks to implement the agreement began
immediately with Egyptian mediation.
Halevy said that while few details
were known about the agreement or about “proximity talks” apparently under way,
both sides – “Israel and whoever we are negotiating with” – had an interest in
very little information coming out regarding what exactly was being discussed
and agreed upon.
“Even to this day little is known as to who is
negotiating on whose side, and what the role of the Egyptians is,” he
Nevertheless, Halevy said, “you can see the beginnings of a policy
emerging. We are allowing certain things in Gaza. We are treating the people in
Gaza in a slightly different way than we have up to now.”
Hamas head Khaled Mashaal’s recent trip to Gaza, Halevy said that visit could
not have taken place if Israel had not allowed it to happen, and certainly if
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi had not permitted it. By contrast, he said,
Iran’s requests to allow its Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salahi to visit Gaza
were turned down twice.
One Israeli government official, commenting on
the discussion under way in Egypt, said Israel believed there were a number of
crucial ingredients in ensuring the continuation of the quiet in the
The first element was the prevention of Hamas’s rearmament, he said. “A Hamas with diminished capabilities
is less likely to invite another round of violence.”
He also said Israel
was aware that easing the restrictions on Gaza, which he acknowledged was
happening quietly, would extend the durability of the cease-fire.
official said Israel had a keen interest in cultivating a serious dialogue with
the new regime in Egypt, and that “if by moving forward on civilian issues in
Gaza, we are able to strengthen the cease-fire there and engage the Egyptians in
a positive way, then that of course would be advantageous.”
discussions, he added, no one harbored any illusions about the situation in Gaza
or the fact that it could quickly explode, saying Israel’s military deterrence
remained the most important element in securing the quiet.
his talk, spoke briefly about Iran and Syria, saying that Syria was fast
becoming Iran’s Achilles’ heel in the region and that the Islamic Republic had
to be kept out of any solution to the Syrian crisis.
In a related
development, the situation in Syria and the need for an international effort to
deal with the threat Syria’s chemical weapons pose came up in discussions in
Moscow on Wednesday between the Foreign Ministry’s deputy directorgeneral for
strategic affairs, Jeremy Issacharoff, and Deputy Russian Foreign Minister
The talks, which also included a discussion about the
Iranian nuclear program, took place within the framework of the annual
Russian-Israel strategic dialogue.
During his visit, Issacharoff also met
with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s envoy Mikhail Bogdanov.