A fragile truce

Unfortunately, as the fragile cease-fire takes effect, there are already signs of the next round of clashes on the horizon.

Beduin sheepherder with Iron Dome in background 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Beduin sheepherder with Iron Dome in background 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
After four days of conflict, the present round of clashes with terrorist organizations in Gaza appears to have come to an end. Most parties had a vested interest in avoiding an escalation.
Israel’s objectives in the current violence were limited to containment of the fallout resulting from the targeted killing of Zuhair Qaisi, head of the Popular Resistance Committees in the Gaza Strip. Qaisi was viewed as a “ticking bomb” who was preparing an attack from the lawless Sinai Peninsular similar to the one he engineered last August.
The aims of the PRC, Islamic Jihad and other “muqawama” or “rejectionist” terrorist organizations heavily funded and backed by Iran have been and remain kidnapping and/or murdering Israelis and drawing Israel into direct conflict with post-Mubarak Egypt. And it was precisely these aims that Israel wanted to foil by killing Qaisi.
However, Israel had no interest in a major escalation that could result in many unintentional civilian casualties in Gaza, especially considering the Palestinians’ policy of firing rockets from population centers and using civilians as human shields. And though the three Iron Dome rocket-defense batteries stationed in Ashdod, Ashkelon and Beersheba provided important protection to tens of thousands living within rocket range of Gaza, prolonging the conflict would have increased the risk of Israeli casualties.
Hamas, which holds the most control in Gaza, also had no interest in escalation, although this could change down the road. The terrorist organization is in flux, moving away from its old alliances with Iran and Syria and trying to align itself with Sunni states, particularly Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas’s mother organization, is rising to power. Hamas has a vested interest in showing Egypt and other “moderate” Sunni states that it is capable of maintaining stability in Gaza.
This is particularly true considering the fact that Egypt, which has undergone tremendous political turmoil since Hosni Mubarak’s ouster, has troubles of its own – particularly tensions between the military junta and the Islamists – and has no desire to see a war on its northern border.
Indeed, Egypt played a key role in facilitating the present cease-fire. Intelligence chief Murad Muafi and other Egyptian military figures provided vital liaison between Israel and the terrorist groups in Gaza.
Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad, director of policy and political-military affairs at the Defense Ministry, told Army Radio on Tuesday morning that there had been no formal agreement with Hamas or other terrorist organizations operating in Gaza, since Israel “does not deal with murderers.”
Instead, he said, Israel had via the Egyptians relayed a message of “quiet in exchange in exchange for quiet” while reserving the right to carry out targeted killings when necessary.
But the cease-fire is fragile. On Tuesday morning, several mortar shells were fired at southern Israel from Gaza. And the PRC and Islamic Jihad, which have demonstrated that they have many rockets, will continue to plan attacks against the “Zionist entity.”
More disturbing is the very real possibility that the political interest of Hamas and Egypt to maintain calm in Gaza could change. Egypt’s increasing radicalism in the post-Mubarak era was evidenced on Sunday when the Egyptian parliament, now practically controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood, moved toward a vote to halt the reception of more than $1 billion in US aid each year. Islamist lawmakers are ostensibly upset over a case involving American NGOs fighting for human rights in Egypt.
On Monday, the Egyptian parliament voted to expel Israel’s ambassador and halt gas exports to Israel. The vote was taken in a show of hands on a declaration by the Arab Affairs Committee that Egypt would never be a friend, partner or ally of Israel.
Reducing American aid is seen as an attempt to block US influence over Egyptian policies. This might give Egypt a freer hand in the coming years to abrogate the Camp David Accords and adopt a more antagonistic position vis-à-vis Israel.
Unfortunately, as the fragile cease-fire takes effect and over a million Israelis in the South begin to return to normal life, there are already signs of the next round of clashes on the horizon.