ANALYSIS: The Lull in Rockets Is Not Due to an Israel-Hamas Deal

A Hamas initiative is most likely behind the drop in Qassams fired from Gaza at Sderot over the past week.

The statistics are not lying: Since last Thursday, there has been a lull in the fighting in the Gaza Strip. It is quite certain that this will be a short break. But it is also hard to argue with the data: At its peak, on February 29, some 50 rockets were fired each day, mostly by Hamas militants. In the middle of last week, the rate dropped to 10-15 rockets per day, fired by more extremist groups - but the Qassams were provided to them mostly by Hamas. Since last Friday, one or two rockets have been fired each day.

Was there a specific agreement between Israel and Hamas? It does not appear so, even though there are reports on such a deal in some media. It is more reasonable that this is a Hamas initiative, in line with Egyptian expectations. Hamas issued an order to the groups not to fire rockets, and it is being obeyed quite strictly by members of the armed wing of its own organization, and only partially by the other factions.

The relative calm could be considered to be a confidence-building measure that would enable Egypt to step up its efforts to reach a longer-term agreement. It will also make it difficult for Israel to initiate a new series of attacks targetting Hamas in the Strip. In recent days, it seems that the Israel Defense Forces is indeed limiting to a certain extent its offensive operations in the Strip, also in part because of the quiet on the other side.

The lull is very fragile, primarily because of the complexities on the ground. Since there is no direct link between Hamas and the massacre of the yeshiva students at Mercaz Harav in Jerusalem, Israel has avoided retaliating in the Gaza Strip. But Israel will not spend any time trying to find out who is behind the next attack from the Gaza Strip, even if Hamas is not directly responsible for it. And the lull is not complete in any case. On Thursday morning, Islamic Jihad militants detonated a bomb that killed two IDF soldiers in a jeep near Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha.

Another problem lies in the Egyptian plan. Egypt's intelligence chief, General Omar Suleiman, who was scheduled to visit Israel and the territories in order to push the plan forward, delayed his trip again, for the second week in a row. Hamas is demanding, as a prerequisite for a deal, the opening of the border crossings, especially the one at Rafah. Reaching agreement on this matter, one that will be acceptable to both Israel and Hamas, is a very difficult thing to do. During the past few months, an idea was proposed that would allow Palestinian Authority forces, who answer to Mahmoud Abbas, to represent the Palestinians at the crossings. But the degree of mistrust between Fatah and Hamas, especially after the murderous takeover by the Islamist movement in the Gaza Strip last June, is exceptionally strong. Where, for example, will these guards stay once their shift is over? Will they dare to spend the night in the Gaza Strip, secure in the immunity that Hamas will grant them?

But at this time, Hamas is not willing to compromise. Its initial stance at the negotiations maintains that the Fatah officers would be able to run the administrative functions of the Palestinian side of the crossing, but an armed force of Hamas will also be present on-site. This is not a solution that is acceptable to Israel nor the Palestinian Authority, because this will grant the final say at the crossings to Hamas.

A failed attempt to get a clear picture from Hamas spokesmen Sunday was nothing unusual. Aides to Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh tried to market the deal as done. Other members of Hamas, those who are not part of the government, denied this, and argued that for now there is no clear agreement with Egypt or Israel.

IDF sources say that the person who really makes the decisions in Hamas has for some time not been Haniyeh, nor even Khaled Meshal, the group's politburo chief in Damascus. They say that Ahmed Jabari, the head of the military wing of the group, rules. Jabari is the one who led the breach of the border wall at the Philadelphi route in Rafah late in January, in spite of reservations from Meshal. Jabari's stance is hard and uncompromising. It is unlikely he will be willing to make any ideological concessions.