What Happened to the Gaza 'Cease-fire' and What Happens Next?

Whether or not there is any truth to Hamas claims that they learned the terms of cease-fire from the media, it is clear there was little chance of them coming round at this point.

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Israeli soldier sleep beside a military vehicle near the Israel Gaza Border, early Tuesday, July 15, 2014.Credit: AP

The Israeli decision to accept the cease-fire proposed by the Egyptian government and, from 9 A.M. Tuesday (Israel time), to cease its attacks on targets in the Gaza Strip, always presupposed that rockets would be launched by Hamas and other Palestinians factions for a few hours. That has been their practice following previous cease-fire agreements; to reserve their right to have "the last word." Israel can afford to take that risk, relying on the relative inaccuracy of the rockets and the proven effectiveness of the Iron Dome defense system.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, backed by Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, overcame the opposition of some of the members of the security cabinet, as well as the demands coming from much of the Israeli public to "hit Hamas harder" and secured a vote in favor. He then waited for nearly six hours and over 40 rockets fired at various parts of Israel before ordering the air force to resume offensive operations.

Besides achieving a cease-fire, Israel had an additional gain it was looking out for. This was the first overt intervention by the new administration in Cairo in the Israel-Palestine conflict and Jerusalem has a major interest in having President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi as an active participant. After three and a half years of unclear relations with Egypt, this is the perfect opportunity to restore the backchannel with Gaza which can also serve when needed as a lever of pressure on Hamas.

During the first few days of Operation Protective Edge there seemed to be a reluctance of the Egyptians to get involved too deeply. Following the death of the short-lived and one-sided "cease-fire", it seems that when Egypt finally acted, theycould have done so too quickly, without securing at least some minimal understanding with Hamas that they were prepared to go along.

Whether or not there is any truth to Hamas claims that they learned the terms of cease-fire from the media, it is clear there was little chance of them coming round at this point.

It is unclear who is currently calling the shots in Hamas. The commanders of the political wing in their bunkers under Gaza? The weakened civilian leadership of the movement, which is also underground, or the nominal bosses abroad in Qatar and Turkey, who are playing a risky political game, anxious to preserve their influence on the ground. In these situations, it is usually the most hardline element and in this case, those with a direct line to the rocket-launching teams call the shots.

The frustration within Hamas' upper echelons is evident. Eight days of fighting in which they have used up all their cards, long-range missiles, drones, tunnels, frogmen, have yielded no serious casualties on the Israeli side. The propaganda films showing the drone ostensibly flying over IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv is an obvious and desperate fabrication. The cease-fire proposal gives them no assurances that they will achieve any of their demands - no guaranteed opening of crossings to Egypt or Israel, no transfer of funds for salaries to tens of thousands of civil servants in Gaza, no release of Hamas members arrested last month in the West Bank. All there is a period of indirect talks with Israel and Cairo and the prospect of having their rival, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, appear as the one securing most of the gains for the people of Gaza.

In retrospective it may not be surprising they turned the proposal down but it was still hard to contemplate such a public spurning of President al-Sissi. Hamas is left with very few friends in the region now and facing a renewed Israeli attack.

They may yet climb out of the bunker as they realize how lonely they are down there.

Netanyahu said this morning that if Hamas turns down the cease-fire, Israel will have "international legitimacy" to resume and expand operations in Gaza. He is aware though that any legitimacy is still limited and that if the cease-fire cannot be salvaged and soon, he will be much close to a decision he is extremely reluctant to make - ordering a ground offensive in Gaza. Such a campaign will cause both a much higher death-toll on the Palestinian side and the prospect of significant Israeli casualties, something that thanks to mainly to Iron Dome, Israel has been spared until now.

Hamas will now have a rethink and Netanyahu and Ya'alon will hope they made their point with a wave of airstrikes. For now, the only exit is still through Cairo.

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