Egypt's Message: Israeli Restraint in Gaza Vital to Palestinian Reconciliation Efforts

Egyptian officials say that a disproportionate Israeli response against Hamas – currently trying to reign in Gaza groups – would further deter Palestinian Authority from assuming security control in Strip

Supporters of the Fatah movement hold up a portrait of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat during a rally in Gaza City, December 31, 2017.
MAHMUD HAMS/AFP

Egypt is concerned at the possible ramifications the escalation in Gaza could have on reconciliation talks between warring Palestinian factions. Israeli officials received worried messages emphasizing the importance of all sides exercising maximal care and patience in response to rocket fire - including Israel.

Messages worded in a similar tone were sent to the Hamas leadership, calling on them to make every effort to prevent rocket fire by extremist factions.

Egyptian officials argued that Fatah is carefully examining Israel’s reaction to Hamas efforts to prevent rocket fire by Gaza groups. They said Israel’s response will likely influence their willingness to accept responsibility in the future for security control of Gaza. Palestinian Authority officials are avoiding taking such responsibility as long as long as they cannot control armed Palestinian factions active in the Strip and fear that Israel won’t give them enough time to establish themselves on the ground.

Some 40 rockets have been fired at Israel from Gaza since the unilateral American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last month. Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot criticized calls for a military operation in Gaza.

“I hear irresponsible calls to react with maximum force to rockets fired from Gaza. It’s not the right thing to do,” he said. Speaking at a conference at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Eisenkot said Israel will not accept the firing of a single rocket but must respond in a nuanced way. “We apply varying degrees of force,” he said.

“I don’t know of a single instance in which the Israel Defense Forces haven’t attacked terrorist targets,” he told his conference audience. “There are two million residents in Gaza in a very crowded space, and we don’t need to rush into anything. We have the tools to carry out any operation and to achieve our goals in Gaza, but you need to understand the complicated situation in Gaza. Our goal is to maintain the status quo. We are also committed not to arrive at a situation of economic and humanitarian collapse,” he said.

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman also recently warned against an escalation in Gaza. He told Army Radio on Monday, “Israel’s interest is in the international community paying full attention to Iran and not in launching a military campaign in Gaza.” He added: “All the Salafis want is to drag us into a general campaign against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. By the way, some of the opposition leaders want the same thing.”

Earlier on Tuesday, the Walla news site reported that Egypt had canceled last month a secret visit by the Israeli Foreign Ministry director general to Cairo. The trip was canceled against the backdrop of the recognition of Jerusalem. Israeli officials refused to comment on the report.