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The prospects of the latest Gaza ceasefire

Aug 27, 2014

The prospects of the latest Gaza ceasefire

Update from AIJAC

August 27, 2014
Number 08/14 #06

A new Gaza ceasefire, brokered by Egypt, came into effect last night at 7:00pm Israel time. Unlike all previous ceasefire, this one is indefinite in duration and many commentators are treating it as likely ending the Gaza conflict for the time being – although of course Hamas has broken numerous previous ceasefires. It is being celebrated in Gaza as a supposed victory. This Update deals with the terms of the ceasefire, evaluations of why Hamas agreed to a deal which looks very similar to previous offers they turned down, and what might happen from here. 

First up is a BICOM fact-sheet setting out the details of the truce arrangement. These include the immediate end to fighting by both sides and the immediate expediting more humanitarian aid into Gaza but the postponement of a series of key issues for discussion in a month’s time – including the Hamas demand for an airport and seaport and the Israel demand for Hamas’ demilitarisation. BICOM also includes some good summary details about how the 50-day Gaza conflict began and developed, fatalities on both sides, and the number of rockets fired (4,500 or so). For all the basic facts about the ceasefire, CLICK HERE.

Next up is some analysis of the military outcome of this conflict from top Israeli security affairs reporter Ron Ben Yishai. He argues that although Hamas “blinked first” and agreed to a ceasefire on terms it has been rejecting since July 15, it remains unclear at this point whether the conflict should be seen as a draw or a victory for Israel. Ben Yishai notes that even though the campaign appears to have achieved its declared objectives from Israel’s point of view -“Hamas is militarily and politically weakened, its tunnels destroyed, its rocket production system has suffered a fatal blow” – it will only when a long-term truce has been negotiated over some months that will it really be clear what the outcome to this conflict was. For his complete analysis, CLICK HERE. A case that this outcome is a clear victory for Israel – though agreeing that long-term arrangements will be crucial –  comes from Yossi Melman of the Jerusalem Post.

Finally, David Horovitz, editor of the Times of Israel, warns that from Hamas’ point of view, the celebrations can be portrayed as justified. He notes that it is not yet clear this truce will not be violated like so many others, and even if holds, Hamas will be able to claim it killed 69 Israelis, briefly closed Israel to most air traffic, and battered the towns of Israel’s south, especially in the final days – all thing a terror group dedicated to Israel’s destruction will say are achievements. But the real test for Israel’s leaders, Horowitz argues, will be if long-term arrangements are put in place which “den[y] Hamas the capacity to fight and kill another day.” For the rest of what he has to say, CLICK HERE. A different view comes from American thinktank The Investigative Project.

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BICOM Briefing: Open-ended Ceasefire Agreement

Key Points

  • Israel and Palestinian factions including Hamas have agreed an open-ended ceasefire from 7pm Tuesday evening local time (5pm UK time).
  • The ceasefire includes two stages: an initial period in which firing will stop and restrictions on crossings will be eased for humanitarian aid, with more long term issues to be addressed within a month.
  • Hamas previously rejected Egyptian ceasefire proposals which did not immediately meet all their demands.
  • Fire from Palestinian armed groups continued up to the scheduled beginning of the ceasefire, with an Israeli civilian killed by a mortar on Tuesday afternoon.

What is in the ceasefire agreement?

  • Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups have agreed to immediately halt rocket fire and attacks into Israel, whilst Israel will refrain from carrying out operational activity.
  • Israel will immediately allow for increased transfer of humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip from the Erez and Kerem Shalom crossings, though entry of construction materials will be limited to prevent them being used by Hamas for military purposes.
  • Israel will increase the fishing zone off the Gaza coastline.
  • Within one month, more substantial issues will be discussed, including Hamas demands for construction of an airport and sea port in the Gaza Strip and the further opening up of the Gaza Strip’s borders, including the Rafah crossing with Egypt. However, Israeli officials have said that any more substantial lifting of restrictions must be linked to the demilitarisation of the Gaza Strip, and Egypt wants to see the deployment of PA security forces loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas on the Rafah border crossing. Hamas’s demand for salaries to be paid to its employees in the Gaza Strip is apparently not addressed in the first stage of the agreement.
  • According to some reports a UN Security Resolution will also be passed in the coming days relating to the future of the Gaza Strip.
  • The issue of the release of the remains of two Israeli soldiers killed in the fighting and of Hamas fighters and activists arrested by Israel in the West Bank and Gaza, is also likely to come under discussion during the coming month.
  • The EU has offered to play a role in ensuring the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip is conducted without allowing Hamas to rearm, and EU Ambassador to Israel Lars Faaborg-Andersen said this week that the EU held Hamas responsible for the collapse of ceasefire talks last week.

Background to the conflict

  • The escalation of rocket fire from the Gaza Strip into Israeli towns and cities, in particular the firing of around 100 rockets on Monday 7 July, led the Israeli Security Cabinet to launch Operation Protective Edge, in an effort to restore quiet.
  • A ceasefire established after Operation Pillar of Defence in November 2012 began to erode with increasing Palestinian rocket fire in the first few months of 2014. The rocket fire increased further after Israel arrested hundreds of Hamas operatives in the West Bank whilst trying to find three Israeli teenagers abducted by Hamas operatives in June.
  • Though the current escalation was set off by events in the West Bank, Hamas was driven to escalate and continue the fighting to extricate itself from an economic and political crisis in the Gaza Strip, facing increasing regional isolation.
  • Israel did not seek an escalation in the Gaza Strip and consistently sent messages to Hamas that ‘quiet would be answered with quiet’.
  • Israel launched a two week ground operation in the Gaza Strip on 17 July, following the rejection by Hamas of an Egyptian ceasefire proposal backed by the Arab League on 15 July. The main target of the ground operation was destroying concrete tunnels built by Hamas to carry terrorists under the border to carry out attacks in Israel.
  • The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry claims more than 2,000 Palestinian fatalities, making no distinctions between militants and civilians. Israel believes that between 750 and 1,000 of the Palestinian fatalities are militants.
  • There were a total of 64 Israeli military fatalities and five civilian fatalities, including a four-year-old boy killed by a mortar on Friday 22 August, and an individual killed on Tuesday 26 August.
  • Around 4500 rockets and mortars have been fired towards Israeli towns and cities since the start of Operation Protective Edge on 8 July. Israel’s Iron Dome missile defence system intercepted more than 700 rockets heading for populated areas.

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The end of the operation: Hamas blinked first

No one should be deceived by the rather ostentatious displays of victory on the streets of Gaza, but Israel must be firm in its demands, and its leader should take a good hard look at their own behavior over the past 50 days.

Ron Ben Yishai, 08.27.14, 00:59

  In Jerusalem and the Defense Ministry’s Kirya compound in Tel Aviv they are rubbing their hands in satisfaction – and quite rightly so. After a short-lived war of attrition of just one week, even without a fresh ground incursion, Hamas blinked first and agreed to the outline of the initial ceasefire proposed the Egyptians – the outline of which it had received before Israel sent its ground troops in weeks ago.

Hamas has not even received the “minor agreement” it could have secured eight days ago, before it violated the ceasefire the last time. Israel, however, has not ceded on anything, rather simply agreed to the ceasefire approved by the Cabinet back in mid-July, a few days after the start of Operation Protective Edge.

Even so, I can honestly say that I still do not know if we won or drew against the terrorist organization that initiated this war. Granted, the organization is badly wounded, has had all of its military capabilities taken away and more than a thousand of its fighters lost their lives, but Israel also lost 68 people, most of them soldiers. And yet, there is no satisfactory answer that will ensure the safety of the border communities against mortars, short-range rockets and even anti-tank missiles that could be fired on a bus carrying children to school in the Eshkol Regional Council or the Negev.

The indefinite ceasefire that took effect Tuesday evening is a tactical win that, for the moment, does not guarantee long-term, stable calm for the Western Negev communities or the whole of Israel. It was indeed Hamas who sought the ceasefire, even pleaded for it, but the organization is known to be a serial violator of ceasefires, and the need to hurt and shed the blood of the Israelis has often overcome its survival instinct and concern for the Palestinians under its control.

The Egyptian and Israeli governments did well by demanding a relatively long ceasefire of at least a month before even beginning to discuss Hamas’ demands and Israel’s counter-demands. Even when the negotiations do begin, we should be prepared for Hamas trying to pressure us to accept its demands by renewing its attacks. Therefore, instead of calling this a “permanent ceasefire”, it is more appropriate to call it a “conditional ceasefire”.

In this regard, it is important to point out that in addition to the ceasefire that began Tuesday evening, the United States is moving ahead with a Security Council resolution that would anchor the ceasefire in international law and also mention Israel’s demilitarization requirements. This process, initiated by the US and the European Union within the framework of the Security Council, serves to reinforce the deal reached by the Egyptians, Hamas and Israel.

It is fair to assume that the Egyptians promised Hamas that the Rafah crossing will be opened as soon as possible, which will give Hamas an incentive to uphold the ceasefire, even if its Qatar-based political leader Khaled Mashal does try to drag it back into a resumption of fire. But Hamas will be interested in maintaining the ceasefire primarily because of the need to rebuild the Gaza Strip from the terrible rubble that remains. One must admit that the Air Force operations of the last eight days and the achievements of Israel’s intelligence officials in eradicating Hamas’ military wing prevent the need for Israel to send its ground troops back into Gaza to impose a ceasefire while Hamas fell apart, something that would have proven to be very costly indeed.

Another question that Israel will have to address is what to do if and when Hamas or one of the other Gazan factions violates the ceasefire – either by digging a tunnel, manufacturing rockets or planting explosives near the Gaza perimeter fence. If Israel does not respond firmly and decisively to even the slightest breach from this point on, it will lose the deterrence it has achieved in this operation. There would be no point to anything that the Air Force, ground troops and navy have achieved if Israel were to show restraint in the face of any breaches.

Hence, the true test of the ceasefire declared Tuesday evening will not just be whether Hamas, Islamic Jihad and/or the Popular Resistance Committees violate it, but how Israel responds to that first violation. Israel did not respond to violations either after the disengagement in 2005 or following its withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, and as a result had to wage war a few years later, under more difficult conditions. A similar situation now should be avoided at all costs.

The next test of the ceasefire will be the details of the agreement that the parties will begin to discuss next month. In fact, Israel has several demands of its own: Security arrangements to prevent attacks on the fence, mortar fire and the creation of new tunnels, and stopping Hamas from regrouping. This latter issue has actually already been recently resolved, with the Egyptians destroying the smuggling tunnels in Rafah, and Israel overseeing the humanitarian aid delivered to Gaza via the border crossings.

In the future, when the Rafah crossing is opened, Mahmoud Abbas’ inspectors will ensure that weapons and munitions are not transferred from Egypt to Gaza. The question is whether the major agreement will include close inspection of the cement, building materials, pipes and fertilizers brought in to rebuild the economy and demolished buildings of the Gaza Strip so that they are not used to rebuild the tunnels. At this stage, this will be managed by the United Nations and the European inspectors for construction projects in the Strip.

A more serious international monitoring mechanism will have to be devised at some point in the future. As far as Hamas’ humanitarian demands go, Israel has no problem in accepting them immediately. This is, of course, provided that materials transferred to ease the suffering of the population, deal with the water shortages and meet the housing needs of those whose homes were destroyed are not used to strengthen Hamas.

In terms of the rehabilitation of Gaza, Israel has a simple equation: Gaza reconstruction for the demilitarization of heavy weapons – rockets, mortars, anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles and UAVs. Demilitarization should also include the dismantling of facilities used to produce the rockets. For despite what has been said, Israel’s demand for demilitarization is not off the table.

But as stated, the tough negotiations over the agreement will take many months and their success will largely determine whether there is a long-term truce or not. Israel has a vested interest in rehabilitating the Strip, even if it takes a decade, as the citizens of Gaza and Hamas would then have something to lose. Hamas has already previously announced that it has agreed in principle to a 40-year hudna (armistice) with Israel. It stipulated, however, that Israel must withdraw to the 1967 borders.

It is fair to assume that if Gaza is rehabilitated, and the population does have something to lose, even Hamas will keep the hudna – at least for three to five years. A hudna, of course, is more stable than a tahadiyeh (period of calm), and this is what Israel must strive for -without giving up its demand for demilitarization. If the Security Council passes a resolution in the coming days that mentions the demilitarization of Gaza, that would be a real boost to Israel.

One can say, in conclusion, that the operation apparently did achieve its objectives. We do not know yet whether the ceasefire will hold, but if it does, then the operation will definitely have fulfilled its goals. Hamas is militarily and politically weakened, its tunnels destroyed, its rocket production system has suffered a fatal blow – and no one should be impressed by the showy celebrations on the streets of Gaza.

But Israel must take a careful look at itself – especially the government. If the Cabinet had previously ordered the IDF to enter and destroy the tunnels, which they knew about before June 2014, we might have had far fewer casualties and a shorter operation. The Cabinet had not taken into account, although they knew about it, the greatest threat posed yet to the border communities nor taken steps to evacuate them. The defense minister, prime minister and chief of staff made a mistake by not ordering the evacuation of children and anyone not required for the essential maintenance of those communities.

The Israeli government evacuated communities during and after the War of Independence, and there was no reason why little Daniel Tregerman had die so tragically from shrapnel wounds. The outrageous behavior of members of the Cabinet and the mutual exchanges of verbal fire between Benjamin Netanyahu and his ministers severely hampered Israel’s deterrence capabilities, possibly unnecessarily extended the war and even caused a sense of lack of purpose as they gnawed away at our national strength and bolstered Hamas’ desire to keep going.

The campaign is not over, it has just moved to the political, diplomatic and international judiciary arenas. With that in mind, it is still too early to declare mission accomplished, and we may well only be praising the outcome of Operation Protective Edge years down the line.



Those Hamas victory celebrations should not be easily dismissed

Op-ed: If Hamas is not marginalized, if it proves capable of rearming and plotting new strategies toward its goal of our annihilation, the Israeli strategy for handling this conflict will have been a failure

By David Horovitz

Times of Israel, August 26, 2014, 9:58 pm

The ostensible end of Israel-Hamas hostilities took effect at 7 p.m. Israel time Tuesday, on the 50th day of Operation Protective Edge, amid a major barrage of rocket fire. An Israeli was killed and two others were badly injured (one of whom later died) shortly before the truce began, and the alarms continued to sound down south for a good few minutes after 7 p.m., even as Hamas supporters were celebrating “victory” on the streets of Gaza. Not an auspicious start.

Hamas has breached truce agreement after truce agreement in the past 50 days, and there is no compelling reason to assume that this case will be any different. Unnamed sources in the Palestinian negotiating delegation — a curious forum comprising rival factions including Fatah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad — claimed Tuesday night that Hamas’s leadership in Gaza insisted on accepting the same unconditional Egyptian terms that it rejected more than a month ago, and sidelined the Qatar-based Khaled Mashaal, who had previously rejected such terms. Some say that the sight of the Israeli Air Force moving to smash the apartment buildings in which Israel claims it had some of its command centers finally prompted Hamas in Gaza to call a halt. Time will tell if a terror government’s solemn assurance that it has silenced its guns has any credibility.

Entirely predictably, Hamas immediately busied itself extricating what it called success from amid the devastation it has brought down upon Gaza these past seven weeks. It fired over 4,500 rockets at Israel. It killed 64 soldiers and five civilians. It prompted several dozen airlines to shun Israel for two days last month. It terrorized southern Israel, especially in more recent weeks, when it stepped up its mortar fire and rocket barrages on the south. It killed four-year-old Daniel Tragerman inside his own home on Kibbutz Nahal Oz. For an organization committed to the destruction of Israel, these are achievements to celebrate.

By emplacing its war machine in the very heart of Gaza, it also condemned hundreds of thousands of people — the Gazans in whose interests it falsely claims to have fought — to homelessness, dire poverty, and the bleakest of futures. But for Hamas, these too are achievements. Extremism flourishes amid bitterness. Islamic radicals find willing recruits where hope of a better future is in short supply. Thus Hamas expects to profit, too, from the destruction wrought as Israel targeted all those rocket launchers and terror tunnel entrances sited in the homes, mosques and schools of the Gaza Strip. And it can also celebrate the staining of Israel’s reputation in those wide international circles where the evil, cynical nature of Hamas’s war strategy is misunderstood or ignored.

The final word on this conflict, however, is still far from being written. If this round is over, then the focus now shifts to the specifics of the long-term ceasefire arrangements, as military action gives way to diplomacy.

And if, under a long-term deal, Hamas is able to replicate Hezbollah’s strategy in Lebanon — to retain full or significant control of Gaza, to re-arm, to build a still more potent killing mechanism — then its claims of victory, appallingly, will be justified.

Only if a long-term mechanism can be fashioned that denies Hamas the capacity to fight and kill another day will the Israeli leadership be justified in asserting that its goal — ensuring sustained calm and security for the people of Israel — has been met.

The early word is that Israel has made no commitment to meeting any of the central, long-standing Hamas demands — for a lifting of the security blockade, and for the opening of a seaport and an airport. These are concessions that, if agreed in the absence of an effective supervisory mechanism, would give Hamas the ready means to strengthen itself militarily. But it is extremely hard to imagine how such an effective supervisory mechanism could be constructed. And one can only wonder whether Hamas, if it is denied concessions on those issues in the coming weeks of negotiations, will refrain from renewing the conflict.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s popularity has nosedived in recent weeks as the war has continued, as the rockets have pounded on, and as residents of the south have learned to their bloody cost that the political and military leadership were wrong in assuring them three weeks ago that it was safe for them to return to their homes. Support for Netanyahu’s handling of the conflict will rise again if time, and the long-term ceasefire terms, prove that Hamas has been marginalized and de-fanged. Many Israelis, indeed, will come to hail him for not having ordered a far more extensive ground offensive into the treacherous heart of Gaza, where Hamas lay in wait, with the consequent likely loss of dozens, perhaps hundreds, of soldiers’ lives.

But if Hamas is not marginalized, if it proves capable of rebuilding its tunnels, restocking its rocket arsenals, and plotting new strategies toward its goal of Israel’s annihilation, the Israeli strategy for handling this conflict will have been a failure, and the popularity of the prime minister will be far from the most central of Israel’s concerns.

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