Egypt is expected to ask Israel and the Palestinians to return their negotiating teams to Cairo in order to discuss a more permanent cease-fire in the Gaza Strip. [A senior Israeli official says negotiations between the sides are set to start on Tuesday.]
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On August 27, when the cease-fire ending 50 days of warfare between Israel and Hamas went into effect, it was agreed that talks would resume within 30 days. That doesn’t mean hostilities are set to resume at the end of this week, but the date nevertheless serves as a milestone for both sides. However, Hamas’ difficulty in coming up with tangible achievements from the fighting that could justify the suffering of Gaza’s inhabitants in the war does complicate the situation and raise questions about the possibility of a durable cease-fire.
Hamas leaders are clearly not all on the same page regarding their intentions. Moussa Abu Marzouk, who has come to the Strip from his long-time home in Cairo, said recently that if the blockade on Gaza is not lifted, a renewal of the fighting is inevitable. Another senior Hamas figure, Mahmoud al-Zahar, has said that Hamas would agree to the presence of employees of the Palestinian Authority in the Strip, but only as observers and not in active security positions.
PA officials have already begun complaining that Hamas seeks to put obstacles in the way of assigning members of PA security forces to the Strip, saying that, without agreement on the issue, it will be difficult to reopen the border crossings to Israel and Egypt for the regular movement of both people and goods.
Despite the still-simmering tensions between Hamas and the PA, Cairo expects the two camps to send a single delegation to the talks in Egypt. At the center of the latest mutual recriminations is the recent disaster in which dozens of Gazans hoping to find a better life in Europe died when two boats carrying would-be immigrants capsized off the shores of Egypt and Libya.
The PA, in the West Bank, has exploited the events in order to accuse Hamas of bringing Gazans to such a desperate state, through its mismanagement of the territory and waging war with Israel, that many seek to leave Gaza by any means possible, in total violation of the ethos of the Palestinian struggle. PA officials claim that Hamas activists are involved even now in operating tunnels through which the would-be refugees went from the Strip to Sinai, on their way to the boats they hoped would bring them to Europe.
Israeli defense officials do not expect Hamas to resume hostilities later this week. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon claimed last week that Israeli deterrence is sufficiently robust as to keep Hamas from risking a new military confrontation and additional damage and losses. But there are many variables in play that could change the situation.
The main one, in addition to the ongoing hostility between Hamas and the PA, has to do with the slow pace of reconstruction efforts. Last week, the United Nations declared the establishment of a mechanism to monitor the entry into Gaza of construction materials earmarked for repairing war damage. But both the flow of funds and the operation of the bureaucracy are slow. The sight of hundreds of thousands of Gazans without a roof over their heads is expected to dog Hamas for months to come.
Gazans, meanwhile, have already complained about a few incidents of Israel Navy boats firing on fishing boats approaching the outer limits of the fishing zones set by Israel, as well as of Israel Defense Forces ground troops breaching the border fence on a few occasions in order to search for bombs. The mortar shell that landed in an open area on the Israeli side of the border last week was apparently fired by Islamic Jihad, possibly a test that went awry. Israel did not respond militarily, settling for a general threat to Hamas over the first violation of the cease-fire agreement on the Palestinian side
And in Lebanon
In southern Lebanon, meanwhile, an Israeli Sky Rider unmanned aerial vehicle crashed on Saturday while on a photography mission above the town of Marjayoun. There have been similar incidents in the past, but Saturday's came shortly after a high-ranking officer in the Northern Command spoke about Hezbollah’s preparations for a possible military confrontation with Israel in the future.
Hezbollah is too involved in the fighting in Syria and Iraq for such a prospect to be imminent, but that doesn’t mean Israel can afford to ignore shifts in what used to be called the “resistance front” – the alliance between Iran and Syria that also included Hezbollah, and that in the past also reached into Gaza in the form of financial and military aid to Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Iran-Hamas relations tanked more than two years ago, after Hamas spoke out against the Syrian regime’s slaughter of Muslims in that country. But during the war between Israel and Hamas this summer, Tehran announced that it would renew its weapons shipments to the organization in the Gaza Strip in order to aid its struggle against Israel.
Iran and Hezbollah still have some accounts to settle with Israel, over the assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists and senior Hezbollah figures in recent years that have been attributed to Israel. Despite the tough rhetoric from Hamas leaders, the fighting in Gaza also cannot be considered a ringing success on the part of the organization.
It is with these in mind that Israel is wary of the possibility of large-scale, showy terror attacks on a number of fronts in the near future. In his televised address for Rosh Hashanah, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu noted a number of potential security dangers, the newest of which, Islamic State, actually seemed the least pressing of them.
For now, it’s Israel’s older, established enemies that the state’s intelligence community is worried about.