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Friday, October 9, 2015

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Gaza II: The winners and losers

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No sooner had the Nov. 21 Israel-Hamas ceasefire been agreed upon than the instant analysis of who “won” and who “lost” began in the media.

It was generally agreed that Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi was the big winner, with PA President Mahmoud Abbas more marginalized than ever (even as he insists on going to the UN General Assembly to have the PA’s status upgraded in defiance of Israel and the United States). Also on the losing endo was Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan. Even though Turkey and Qatar supported Egypt and the United States to fashion the ceasefire, the obstinately anti-Israel Erdogan took a back seat to Morsi.

During an interview on CNN on the evening of Nov. 21, Israeli President Shimon Peres summed up the Egyptian president’s position: “Morsi’s heart is somewhere else [with the Brotherhood], but his behaviour is responsible.”

Indeed, Morsi was widely commended for choosing political pragmatism over ideological fervour in trying to broker a deal, with strong American backing, that both Hamas and Israel could accept.

Then again, Morsi didn’t have all that much choice in the matter, not if he plans to lead his country through a period of extreme economic turmoil, which means turning to the West for approximately $10 billion in assistance.

Still, Morsi has put himself on the line, and his prestige depends to a considerable degree on ensuring that Hamas abide by the ceasefire agreement. However, as Barak Ravid of Ha’aretz reported, while “Hamas and the other Palestinian organizations have promised to stop all attacks on Israel from the Gaza Strip, including rocket fire and attacks along the border… [an] accomplishment for Hamas is that the understandings do not force upon it the responsibility for enforcing the cease-fire on the other organizations in the Gaza Strip.”

 No wonder just a tiny fraction of Israelis (seven per cent according to a snap survey by Israel’s Channel 2 on the night of Nov. 21) believe that the ceasefire will have a long-term effect. It’s assumed that a scientific survey would show approximately the same lack of confidence: that, before long, Israelis will have to contend once again with missiles from Gaza. Veteran Yediot Achronot reporter Shimon Shiffer reflected this pessimism when he wrote about Israel’s need to be allowed to live in peace and security: “It’s a shame that it’s not going to happen. The truth must be told… Hamas will determine how long the lull will last.”

There is a feeling that, no matter how much damage the IDF’s 1,500 sorties caused to Hamas’ infrastructure, Israel failed to re-establish sufficient deterrence. This means that the troika of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defence Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is credited with only a modest military gain in the latest round with Hamas. Yet, especially in international circles, they have been commended for political pragmatism in avoiding a costly ground war.

Ravid noted that the current memorandum of understanding resembles the ceasefire agreed to after Operation Cast Lead in 2009. “The only practical clause in the agreements is the cessation of fighting, according to the principle of ‘quiet will be answered by quiet.’” Nonetheless, as with Cast Lead, “Israel has received guarantees from the United States that it will deal with weapons-smuggling into the strip, but estimates are that the practical meaning of this clause will be extremely limited.”

In short, this is another way of saying that little will be effectively achieved in terms of stopping the lucrative smuggling of heavy arms, including Iranian missiles, into Gaza, as Hamas and other groups will almost surely seek to rebuild their stocks and military infrastructure.

One important but generally neglected area for journalists to venture into is the still largely lawless Sinai and the Egypt-Gaza border in order to examine how Bedouin, Hamas and jihadi groups have profited from the smuggling against paltry Egyptian efforts to stop it, as is required under the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty – something that is rarely, if ever, mentioned.

Paul Michaels is director of research and senior media relations for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.

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