Battered by Hamas’ escalating rocket and mortar assaults, Israelis are again tossed on the uncertain waters of an imminent ceasefire which never materializes. This illusion is propagated again by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Egyptian President Abdel-Fatteh El-Sisi. Washington has also been enlisted to the effort by drafting a resolution for the UN Security Council. It was tabled at the request of the White House with quiet backing from Netanyahu for the purpose of blocking the European measure, which is backed by Qatar, one of the Hamas’ few supporters and host to its political leader Khaled Meshaal.
Why is President Barack Obama standing behind Egypt and Israel this time?
His reasoning is complicated. Netanyahu and El-Sisi, who speak regularly and discreetly by phone, have been persuaded by their intelligence services that Meshaal is an impediment – not just to a temporary ceasefire, but to any sort of accommodation for ending the Gaza conflict. They are convinced that all the Palestinian factions, including Hamas-Gaza, would go for an end to the war, in the hope of a Gaza deal leading to a settlement between Israel and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
Those intelligence analysts cling to the hypothesis that Hamas-Gaza really wants to end the war, and this assumption dominates top-level thinking in Jerusalem and Cairo, in the face of all Hamas’ actions to the contrary in 50 days of escalating Hamas warfare up until Tuesday, Aug. 26.
This dichotomy leaves Israelis increasingly confused and uncertain about how to conduct their lives, especially in the areas closest to the Gaza Strip, which have been largely depopulated by non-stop Hamas short-range rocket and mortar fire.
The theory found a champion this week in an unexpected quarter: Khaled al-Batsh, one of the top men of Islamic Jihad, the pro-Iranian Palestinian terrorist movement which is Hamas’ most active partner in the offensive against Israel.
He suddenly announced he was in favor of a truce.
Lest he be suspected of overnight conversion to peace-lover, DEBKAfile’s intelligence services turns to another hidden aspect of the Gaza conflict for an explanation: The Palestinian group’s patrons, Iran and Hizballah, are working hard to paint their ally Syrian President Bashar Assad as the only force in the Middle East capable of fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria – IS. If their proposition is accepted, they will reciprocate by bringing about a halt in the Gaza hostilities. They would also be able to show themselves in the light of the real forces of peace and moderation in the region.
The US-Egyptian-Israeli line therefore hinged on the presumption that a deal introducing Tehran to the Gaza equation would be beneficial, because Meshaal, who relies heavily on Iranian support, would not be able to spurn an Iranian demand to stop the fighting in Gaza.
But this math has not panned out. Meshaal showed his nerves were strong enough to withstand the potion mixed for him in Washington, Jerusalem, Cairo, Ramallah. He not only stuck to his guns against ending the Gaza conflict, he outmaneuvered them all by enlisting Hamas’ secretive military chief Muhammed Deif to this end. The object of an Israeli targeted assassination on Aug. 19, Meshaal said that Deif had survived the attack and they were in close contact.
Whether he spoke the truth or not cannot be determined at this point. But by bandying Deif’s name and claiming he too was flat against a ceasefire, Meshaal set a clear course for the war to continue, irrespective of efforts to bring about a truce in the fighting. Deif’s word in the movement is law, which no Hamas member would dare defy.
So, at this point, all the schemes and machinations for ending the Gaza crisis by diplomacy are in deadlock, DEBKAfile’s intelligence and military sources report.
The two options remaining to the leaders of Egypt and Israel are: 1) Unable to break Khaled Meshaal’s will, they must find a way to persuade Hamas-Gaza that it is in their best interests to defy, or even sack, him. 2) To apply military pressure that is beyond Hamas’ capacity to resist – i.e., effective IDF ground action – to stop the fighting by sheer force.
Of course, if the Hamas political chief were to surprise everyone by caving in and accepting a truce, that would be a third option. But there are no signs of this happening. His movement continued meanwhile to signal its true intentions in no uncertain terms Tuesday, Aug. 26, Day 50 of the Gaza conflict, by unveiling a new 340mm rocket with an extra large warhead which crashed down on a private home in Ashkelon, injuring 59 people – the largest number of casualties by any single rocket so far. Two houses were leveled and dozens more damaged.
And so Hamas Gaza graphically belied the hypothesis of its intentions which guide – or misguide – Washington, Jerusalem and Cairo.