Operation Pillar of Defense
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|George Friedman||November 18th 2012|
Contradictory rumors regarding the outcome of cease-fire negotiations between Hamas and Israel have increased dramatically in recent hours. A Hamas spokesman told Al Jazeera that Israel and Hamas have agreed to 90 percent of the terms of a new cease-fire. Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi is reportedly meeting the evening of Nov. 18 with a delegation led by Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal and another delegation led by Palestinian Islamic Jihad Secretary-General Ramadan Abdullah Shallah.
While Israeli officials have told news outlets that the government is in talks with Cairo on a cease-fire, Israeli officials are now denying reports that an Israeli envoy actually traveled to Cairo Nov. 18 for cease-fire talks. Meanwhile, Turkey appears to be trying to integrate itself into the cease-fire talks with reported plans for Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to travel to Gaza on Nov. 20.
There are many good reasons for cease-fire negotiations to be taking place right now. First, Hamas wants to achieve a symbolic victory through its long-range rocket attacks against Tel Aviv and Jerusalem but does not necessarily want to pay the price of seeing its leadership and infrastructure devastated in an Israeli ground invasion. Second, Israel has a political imperative to neutralize Hamas' long-range rocket threat but does not want to necessarily go through with a ground invasion that could draw Israeli forces into urban warfare in seeking out weapons storage and assembly facilities. Lastly, Egypt under the Muslim Brotherhood can gain politically from publicly demonstrating solidarity with the Palestinians but also does not want to deal with the political repercussions of an Israeli ground attack in Gaza and the pressure that would follow from both Israel and the United States in trying to force Egypt to crack down on its border crossings with Gaza.
Though talks are certainly taking place, it does not appear that a cease-fire agreement is imminent. Even if 90 percent of the terms are agreed upon, as is being claimed, it is the final 10 percent that could matter most. There is little middle ground in this negotiation at this stage so long as Hamas is insistent on retaining its Fajr-5 long-range rocket capability and so long as Israel views a ground operation as necessary to neutralize that threat.
Egypt is central to this negotiation; while secondary players like Qatar and Turkey are trying to edge their way into this negotiation, they do not have meaningful leverage to sway either side. Reports indicate that Hamas is pushing for a temporary truce in return for Egypt opening the border blockade on Gaza and Israel halting targeted killings of its leaders and military commanders. However, unless Egypt is willing and able to assume responsibility for Hamas' rocket arsenal for a long-term truce to satisfy Israel's security concerns, it will be difficult for Israel to move forward in these talks.
Though there have been claims that rocket fire out of Gaza has slowed down (thus indicating progress toward a cease-fire), a closer look at the data since the beginning of the crisis shows that the timing and rate of rocket volleys into Israel through Nov. 18 remains fairly consistent. Militants in Gaza have typically stopped their rocket fire around 7 p.m., after sunset, to reinitiate it around 7 a.m. the next day. One of the reasons for this may be the vulnerability of operators to detection by Israeli intelligence, surveillance and reconissance assets and resulting airstrikes. The time at which rocket fired slowed down on Nov. 18 was no different from the days before it, and the volume of attacks has been consistent with that of previous days as well.
Additionally, we have also seen two Fajr strikes on Tel Aviv on Nov. 18, the latest of which took place after sunset right before rocket fire slowed down for the night. Likewise, after gradually decreasing Nov. 17, the rate of Israeli air strikes on Gaza is beginning to climb again, keeping in line with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Nov. 18 announcement to his Cabinet that targeted killings would increase.
There remains a possibility that we could see a spike in attacks by both sides as both Israel and Hamas try to strengthen their negotiating positions and accomplish as much as they can through their respective attacks before a cease-fire deal is actually struck. Watching Egypt's actions in the coming hours will reveal just how close or far both sides may be to a deal.
George Friedman is the founder and editor of Stratfor, from where this article is adapted.