The ceasefire struck last week between Israel and Hamas after eight days of conflict seems to be holding. But that’s not to suggest that the time for diplomacy is over. To the contrary, it’s precisely now that the United States needs to survey the new landscape that has emerged in the Middle East, and determine how it can shape it going forward.
The place to start is with the most obvious question of all: who won and who lost? In this particular case, there is an irony: Israel, Hamas, and Egypt all gained something.
Israel’s declared goal was to re-establish its deterrent. In fact, Israel sought to prevent Hamas from defining a new normal—where Israel would tolerate periodic rocket attacks into the south, with the lulls between attacks shorter and shorter, life for a million Israelis frequently disrupted, and the IDF unable to preserve a buffer along the border. In the weeks leading up to the conflict, Hamas did less and less to prevent Jihadi groups from firing rockets into Israel and also began to conduct its own attacks against the IDF on the Israeli side of border. Three Hamas attacks, in particular, set off the Israeli alarm bells: an IED attack, a tunnel dug under the fence and packed with explosives and ignited, and an anti-tank missile attack on an Israeli jeep. It was as if Hamas’ leaders thought the new Egypt, Israel’s concerns about not threatening its relationship with its post-Mubarak neighbor, and Israel’s election preoccupation, all combined to allow Hamas to establish a new baseline for attacks against Israel and have it tolerated.
So Israel felt it must act and prove to Hamas that it had crossed a line and would pay for that. Unquestionably, Hamas miscalculated and Israel caught it by surprise, and, in so doing, was able to eliminate Ahmed Jaberi. Killing Jaberi, the architect of Hamas military buildup and the mastermind of attacks against Israelis, was certain to trigger a barrage of rockets in retaliation for some period of time—and the Israelis knew that. But the Israelis hoped to temper that with their threat of a ground invasion of Gaza and the ability to use Iron Dome to minimize the costs to Israel. Israel also believed that its mobilization of ground forces would give Egypt a reason to persuade Hamas to stop, recognizing that the last thing Egypt needs now is an extended Israeli military operation in Gaza that could divert Egypt from addressing its failing economy.
Once again, Hamas has been spared from making the difficult political choice that face most resistance movements when they gain power: whether to focus on the fight or to govern. Since it won the Palestinian elections in 2006 and then took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, Hamas has been free to pursue a middle course, resisting Israel while blaming its political failures on its cold war with Fatah and on Israel’s blockade. Now Hamas will tout the concessions it won from Israel last week — as part of the ceasefire, Israel agreed to open the border crossings to Gaza, suspend its military operations there, and end targeted killings — as proof that it should not give up fighting. Meanwhile, the outcome should be enough to buy Hamas cover for its poor record of governance and allow it to again defer making tough choices about statehood, negotiations, regional alliances, and military strategy. The group might even be able to use the momentum to supplant Fatah in the West Bank as it has done in Gaza.
Hamas’ recent advance won’t fully mask the organization’s central dilemma, nor will it cover internal rifts about how to solve it. In the American and Israeli media, portrayals of Hamas often focus heavily on the group’s commitment to eliminating the Jewish state. And certainly any fair study of the group should take into account that goal. Yet for Hamas, the end of Israel is more an ideological starting point than a practical program. And what comes after the starting point is unclear: Hamas has never developed a vision of what a resolution short of total victory might look like, nor has it spelled out an agenda for governing its own constituents, despite all these years in power. In part, that is because Hamas is a diffuse and contested movement, whose competing factions all work toward their own self-interest.
From AFP, via the Lebanese Daily Star:
CAIRO: Israel and Hamas agreed Wednesday to an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire accord to end a week of violence in and around the Gaza Strip following days of marathon talks.
Here is the text of the ceasefire agreement which is set to take effect at 1900 GMT:
“Israel shall stop all hostilities in the Gaza Strip land sea and air, including incursions and targeting of individuals.
“All Palestinian factions shall stop all hostilities from the Gaza Strip against Israel, including rocket attacks and all attacks along the border.
“Opening the crossings and facilitating the movement of people and transfer of goods and refraining from restricting residents’ free movements and targeting residents in border areas. Procedures of implementation shall be dealt with after 24 hours from the start of the ceasefire.
“Other matters as may be requested shall be addressed.”
“Setting up the zero hour understanding to enter into effect.
“Egypt shall receive assurances from each party that the party commits to what was agreed upon.
“Each party shall commit itself not to perform any acts that would breach this understanding. In case of any observations, Egypt as a sponsor of this understanding, shall be informed to follow up.”
“A great wind is coming,” in the words of one of Israel’s founding paratroopers, Yoel Palgi.
For a long time, perhaps too long, the government chose a policy of restraint, known as “containment” in modern parlance, absorbed the rocket fire toward Israeli communities bordering the Gaza Strip and tried each time to restore the calm by reaching an agreement with Hamas. Until it was pushed, and then pushed a little further.
When the safety pin was finally switched off and the fighter jets took off, a sigh of relief could be heard across the country which in essence expressed the feeling: It’s about time.
At sporting events the crowd rises to its feet and sings the national anthem without requiring instruction. Those called to emergency reserve duty — many of them from homes in range of the rocket attacks — report with the sense that they are being drafted to defend the country.
The common sense of purpose is absolute. Solidarity in Israel is almost across the board. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz haven’t lost control. Operation Pillar of Defense is going as planned, both through the expansion of the air force’s targets in Gaza and through the dramatically exceptional protection of civilians. If the residents on the fourth floor of the old apartment building in Kiryat Malachi would only have left their apartment as instructed, the number of Israeli deaths would be zero. Regardless of the painful and regrettable loss of life, the achievement has still been remarkable.
The outbreak of Israeli-Palestinian violence poses a delicate diplomatic challenge for the Egyptian government. While the powerful Muslim Brotherhood is sympathetic to Hamas and public anger is swelling in Egypt against the Israeli military operation in Gaza, President Morsi is also under international pressure to help broker a ceasefire and safeguard peace in the region.
Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Kandil spent three hours visiting the Gaza Strip on Friday morning. Despite agreeing to a ceasefire during Kandil’s brief visit with Hamas leaders, Israeli air strikes continued there, while Hamas fired further rockets at Israel.
Three days into what Israel is calling “Operation Pillar of Defense” the prime minister traveled to the region to mediate a truce between Israel and Hamas. A further reason Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi — a former Muslim Brotherhood leader — dispatched the prime minister to Gaza was to show solidarity with the Palestinian people.
It remains to be seen if Kandil’s efforts to broker a ceasefire will be successful. But his very presence in Gaza is evidence that Egyptian President Morsi is acutely concerned about the ramifications, particularly in light of the Arab Spring, of this latest flare-up in Israeli-Palestinian violence.
Either Cathy and his board aren’t on the same page or Moreno and Windmeyer were given a lot of meaningless lip service: When everyone was announcing a ceasefire, Cathy was tweeting a photo from a motorcycle ride benefiting anti-marriage-equality efforts.
Are we angry at Chick-fil-A for either lying or not knowing its ass from its elbow? Sure, but we’re more angry at Moreno and Windmeyer, who shouldn’t have been so quick to pat themselves on the back.
For the rest of you: don’t let your craving for some dried-out poultry keep you from being vigilant. It is so not worth the calories.
ANY pretence of holding to the ceasefire brokered by Kofi Annan, envoy of the UN and Arab League envoy to Syria, has gone. Violence spiked across the country on June 11th when the regime’s forces shelled Homs, towns in Idleb, Deir Ezzor, and al-Haffeh in Latakia province, in some cases following up with helicopters. At least 90 people were killed; many more remain trapped, fearful of further assaults or massacres. Doctors in some neighborhoods of Homs said they had run out of medical staff and equipment.
The bands of armed, mainly civilian opponents known as the Free Syrian Army also upped its attacks on the regime’s forces around the country. Use of guerilla tactics, such as roadside bombs and ambushes, has increased. In some areas of the country government forces are pinned down, only leaving their bases for patrols in armoured vehicles. One human rights group estimates that 1,000 soldiers have died since the ceasefire came into theoretical effect on April 12th.
Children are not being spared in this conflict. A UN team returning from the country said children had been used as human shields by the Syrian army…
After spending six and a half months in northern Syria commanding a ragtag local resistance force, whose small arms and homemade bombs are no match for the army’s tanks, artillery and militia, Abdullah Awdeh crossed the border into Turkey late last month in search of aid.
Awdeh, 27, said he had been a lieutenant in the Syrian army until he fled to Turkey in June, and that since August he had commanded about 100 fighters in villages near the town of Idlib. He allowed is own name to be used because he said he’s already known to the regime and would face death in any case if he were captured.
Awdeh was in Istanbul last Sunday, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and more than 70 foreign ministers from around the world arrived for the second meeting of the “Friends of the People of Syria.” There the United States and other countries gave the first hints they will send non-lethal military support and funds to the Syrian resistance, channeling it through the Syrian National Council.
But for a donation from a Syrian businessman, Awdeh said he left here empty-handed. He said he hopes to reinfiltrate into Syria shortly.
The resistance lacks weapons, but also training, communications and cash. It lacks organization as well. The United States has used the lack of a central organization as its reason for not providing supplies or aid — it was only during last week’s meeting that the Friends of Syria recognized the SNC as the main umbrella group for the group’s seeking the ouster of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
But the fighters, as Awdeh describes them, have almost no connection with the SNC and he has no expectation that a relationship will come about. How aid will reach them — and if it will reach them — remains a critical question as the Syrian military presses a campaign across northern Syria ahead of a ceasefire now scheduled to go into effect Tuesday.
Thousands of new refugees have fled the onslaught this week to Turkey, telling of rebel efforts to resist the onslaught that end with the rebels being overwhelmed by the far superior government forces.
Awdeh said the rebellion consists of small units that developed spontaneously around the country during the anti-government uprising in the past year but have little contact with either the military officers in Turkey who call themselves the Free Syrian Army or the civilian-led SNC.
He speaks contemptuously of defected Col. Riad al Assad, the ostensible leader of the FSA. “I know him personally,” Awdeh said. “He’s stupid, he’s inarticulate and he’s not a senior officer.”
Awdeh said no one sent him on his first mission, and no one supported him. “I was alone,” he said, and he knew he could die. “As a Muslim, if I get killed, it will be as a martyr.”
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan accused the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday of indirectly supporting the “oppression” of the Syrian people by failing to adopt a united stance on Syria.
Once a friend of Damascus, Turkey has become a fierce critic of President Bashar al-Assad over his year-long crackdown on his opponents and has called for the Syrian leader to step down.
“In not taking a decision, the U.N. Security Council has indirectly supported the oppression. To stand by with your hands and arms tied while the Syrian people are dying every day is to support the oppression,” Erdogan said.
In February, the Turkish prime minister described a veto by permanent Security Council members China and Russia of a U.N. resolution on Syria as a “fiasco for the civilized world”.
Russia and China have vetoed two council resolutions condemning Assad for turning his army on civilians.
“We will not turn our backs on the Syrian people, we will not leave the Syrian people to their own fate,” Erdogan told a meeting of his ruling AK Party on Tuesday.
On Monday U.N.-Arab League peace envoy Kofi Annan told the 15-nation Security Council that Damascus had agreed to an April 10 deadline to withdraw all military units from towns to pave the way for a ceasefire with rebels two days later.
But Annan also told the council there had been no reduction in violence so far and Western envoys have expressed skepticism about Damascus’ intent to halt its assault on opponents.
Assad has repeatedly promised to stop his campaign against anti-government activists, which has brought the country to the brink of civil war, but the fighting has continued.
On Tuesday, Annan’s spokesman said an advance team from the U.N. peacekeeping department was expected in Damascus within 48 hours to discuss deployment of observers to monitor a ceasefire in Syria.