A closer look and the Israel-Hamas cease fire

Barry Rubin’s latest column in Pajamas Media takes a closer look at the cease fire between Israel and Hamas:

The brief agreement provides that both sides will stop all hostilities. For Israel, that included the targeted killings of terrorists and Hamas leaders. For the Palestinian side, the phrase “all Palestinian factions” was used. That means the Hamas regime is responsible for any attacks by Islamic Jihad, al-Qaeda affiliates, and other small Salafist groups. According to the text, at least, Hamas cannot hide behind allowing or encouraging such groups to attack and then disclaiming responsibility.

Another provision is that Israel will reopen the crossings and let people (a small number of Gazans seeking medical attention in Israel) and supplies return to normal levels.

He provides some interesting insight into some of the interests each party may and had in reaching a cease fire:

On Hamas’s side, the decision to reach a ceasefire was motivated by the damage the organization was suffering and fear of a massive Israeli ground attack. Perhaps most important, however, was that Hamas found it was not receiving strong support from Egypt and other states, especially because Cairo is now ruled by a Muslim Brotherhood government. Hamas is an independent branch of the Muslim Brotherhood movement. Apparently, Hamas did not consult with Egypt before escalating attacks against Israel, the factor that set off large-scale Israeli retaliation. In turn, Egypt, along with Qatar, the Hamas regime’s main Arab funder, pressured the regime to stop the fighting.

The timing for a crisis could not be worse for the new Egyptian regime. It has not yet tamed its army, finished writing its constitution, or established the legitimacy of the parliament it dominates. At the precise time the war started, the Egyptian government was completing negotiations that can be expected to bring it almost $10 billion in aid from the European Union, International Monetary Fund, and United States. Whatever Egypt does in the future, it does not want trouble from Israel at present. Israel had also earlier reassured the Cairo regime that it would support an amendment in their thirty-year-old peace treaty that would allow Egypt to station more troops in the eastern Sinai. The number wouldn’t be enough to threaten Israel but enough to help control the Salafist groups there that have targeted Israel several times in cross-border raids. That is, if Egypt wants to stop them from doing so. At any rate, Egypt faces attacks on itself from some of these groups as well.

As for Israel’s interests:

Israel’s motives included ending attacks on its civilian population which caused few fatalities but had a tremendously disrupting psychological and economic effect. The truth is that Israel’s population, while overwhelmingly supporting the war, evinced more fear about the attacks than in earlier conflicts. The ability of Hamas to fire missiles toward Tel Aviv and Jerusalem — though this was partly a bluff since these missiles were almost emptied of explosives to get a longer range — set off concerns, especially in Tel Aviv. The Iron Dome system worked very well in shooting down a high percentage of the rockets outside the far south.

But Israel’s most realistic interests — though not its preferences — were reached by agreeing to a ceasefire now. There was international, and especially U.S., pressure to avoid a ground attack which meant that the limit of its military gains using only air power had been already attained. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to develop the best possible relationship with newly reelected President Barack Obama, with whom he will probably be dealing with — assuming Netanyahu’s reelection on January 22 — for the next four years.

Equally important was that Israeli leaders — and public opinion generally agrees — know that a temporary ceasefire is the best outcome that can be obtained. A very large portion of Hamas’s weapons, especially longer-range missiles, has been destroyed and it will take Hamas time to rebuild. While people can come up with ideal solutions in their heads, the problem is that Israel does not want to return to rule the Gaza Strip (which would involve armed battles almost daily) and does not have international support for overthrowing Hamas.

It remains to be seen just how long lasting this tentative “peace” will be.  A long and enduring peace will not come about until the conflict of values at the heart of the struggle is replaced by a convergence of interests.