The war on Gaza Strip (GS) ended on 21/11/2012 by virtue of the truce understandings developed by the Palestinian resistance, particularly Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ).
The Israeli government accepted these conditions since it was in dire need for declaring a cease-fire after the set goals have been exhausted while it was not ready for a ground invasion for fear of the high cost of such a step. At the same time, the resistance still had a variety of goals along the Israeli home front, especially the major cities and other vital targets.
Amidst these circumstances, Israel would pursue a policy of procrastination in implementing the terms of the truce under different pretexts, such as the continued entry of weapons into GS, or it might prevent the entry of certain goods under the pretext of being used for military purposes. On another level, the resistance is expected to show some kind of flexibility towards this policy as long as Israel meets a number of its demands. This is in order to safeguard the positive Egyptian supporting stance, and in hope to garner wider Western recognition. Yet, it might later seize the opportunity to attain its rights.
The Israeli government would try to remain in control of the military initiative, and proceed with the settlement building and Judaization in the West Bank (WB). The resistance forces would continue to boost their capacities to prepare for a confrontation that may come soon.
After the cease-fire on 21/11/2012, a group of questions regarding the future stage came to the forefront:
– How long would the truce last taking into consideration that the memorandum of understanding between the Israelis and the Palestinian resistance forces took place under direct Egyptian mediation with Turkish, Qatari, and American support and with Iranian blessing? And would it be possible for the memorandum to develop into wider arrangements through quasi-direct negotiations between Israel and the resistance in Gaza?
– What are the factors that might endanger the truce and the understandings?
– What are the future results of the eight-day-confrontation? And would Hamas’ reliance on the Egyptian support increase in the coming period to make up for its exit from Syria and the relative coldness in the relations with Iran and Hizbullah, not to mention the continued covert and overt disagreements with the Palestinian Authority (PA)?
Since its inception, the Arab-Israeli conflict shows that that the Israeli side would pursue a negotiations strategy based on reaping the utmost possible gains when the balance of power is in its favor. However, when that balance is not in its favor, it would gradually adapt and invest in military, political, and psychological tools of pressure. Then, it would try to absorb the blow paving the way for negotiations that exhaust the other side.
This means that the Palestinian resistance would face Israeli attempts to hold quasi-direct negotiations for a slow and gradual implementation of the agreement. While so, Israel would hope to attract the Palestinian side into indirect negotiations tempted by the expansion of international contact with Hamas, and the Palestinian keenness on maintaining the Egyptian position and developing it.
It seems that the Israeli side has realized the need to reconsider its strategies for dealing with the sources of threat. This is so after the strategy of targeting the Israeli depth started in Iraq in the early 90s, and was then dedicated by Hizbullah, and later embraced by the Palestinian resistance due to its efficiency.
The Israeli side has accepted the truce knowing that a ground war would not entail guaranteed results, besides the possibility of high human casualties that comprises the central weak point in the Israeli strategy. In addition, accepting the truce results from a feeling that the bank of targets ran out at a time when the Palestinian resistance has a wide variety of targets to paralyze the Israeli society.
Accepting the truce means that the Israeli side has realized the need to reconsider the feasibility of its attack without reconsidering its targets represented in foiling the growing power of the resistance, whose increased military force must have been detected by the Israeli intelligence. In addition, it has to reconsider the stances of the new Egyptian regime, besides determining the feasibility of using Iron Dome against resistance missile. As for using the war to win the elections, it was not of major importance, unless the Israeli side guaranteed a completely successful attack.
According to the aforementioned, the Israeli side would base its strategy on the following:
A. Looking for interpretations of the provisions of the understandings to reduce its commitment or to help it fully evade some terms, such as opening the crossings and facilitating the passage of individuals.
- Claiming at a later stage that weapons are still being smuggled or that members from Hizbullah or Iran have entered the GS.
- Claiming that opening the crossings cannot take place except through the PA rather than the Gaza government. Israel might also demand the presence of international observers or the activation of the Agreement on Movement and Access (AMA) signed earlier with the PA, and in which the Europeans played a great role. Israel might also insist on inspecting ships entering Gaza’s territorial waters.
- Claiming that some material should not enter Gaza because they can be used for military purposes.
- Israel would not hesitate at a later stage –should it find it suitable –about clinging to any isolated incident to attack GS again, just as it did upon the aggression on Lebanon in 1982 under the pretext of shooting its ambassador in London back then. Commando operations might be executed in the WB or within the Green Line or across the Sinai desert, or outside Palestine. Such incidents would be assumed by Israel as a pretext for repudiating the agreement or deeming it as not legally binding.
- Israel might also assassinate some resistance leaders through collaborators or its intelligence apparatus. This would lead the involved movements to retaliate and the agreement would accordingly collapse.
B. On the military level, there is no doubt that the Israeli military would seek an answer for a definite question: how would it be possible to counter the missiles strategy? Apparently, the technical solution would overwhelm the Israeli mind through the development of the Iron Dome in the short run in collaboration with the USA, and maybe decreasing the overcrowding in some settlements in the long run, which entails some complications.
C. In return, Israel, in the medium run, is more interested in the WB than in the GS. Thus, if it secures a long truce in GS, it would be able to focus on settlement expansion in the WB. It would also benefit from the continued Palestinian division to weaken the two involved sides and to get more concessions from the PA, especially regarding the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem, etc.
The Palestinian side, particularly Hamas, would face strategic questions in the coming stage:
- Are there prior undeclared Israeli understandings, especially with Egypt? And do these have any repercussions on the Palestinian side?
- There was clear coordination during the battle between Hamas and the PIJ, and the leaders of the two factions appeared in a joint press conference. However, the analysis of each side’s strategy in the long run portends differences that are likely to escalate due to the position of these sides on the Palestinian political map (Hamas in authority, PIJ outside). This might also happen with other factions for quite many reasons.
- What is the time horizon Hamas needs for the truce? If it is long, then it entails a significant risk because there will be what might be called a “cessation of the resistance.” The medium range is open for debate, while the short run entails the risk of losing the Egyptian support, which is an important goal in the current circumstances.This means that the Palestinian commitment to the truce for a long time would create a situation similar to that on the Lebanese front. Thus, while resistance work has stopped since 2006, Israel continued to assassinate Hizbullah leaders outside Lebanon, which might be repeated with the Palestinian resistance.
- There is another dimension in the Palestinian issue, which is the Palestinian pursuit of non-member observer state status in the United Nations. Here we can notice the Israeli, American and some European threats to pursue punitive measures against this move. However, there is even some discrepancy within Hamas apropos of this move.
Such difference is mainly demonstrated in Mahmud al-Zahhar’s statements that reject the step completely as contrasted to the welcoming position by Khalid Mish‘al and some of the movement’s leaders. Such discrepancy enforces the concerns regarding this move and its consequences.
Regarding the Palestinian unity and ending the division, available information do not herald its achievement in the short run. This is because the negotiations strategy is deeply rooted in the PA. Even more, the idea of distribution of roles does not exist in the Palestinian history.
There is another point represented in the results of the Knesset elections in Israel. Although the right wing would most probably win the elections—regardless of the details of this victory—no core changes are likely to be witnessed in the Israeli politics.
Finally, it is noted that three years after the complete withdrawal of the Israeli forces from GS in September 2005, Israel launched its first massive war. Then, three years later, it repeated the offensive, and after that there were sporadic attacks during the last seven years.
Tracing the Israeli behavior with its regional environment from the October 1973 war and the 1978 South Lebanon Conflict (Operation Litani) till the last war on GS, it is noticed that the average war cycle ranges between three and five years. This implies that the possibility of the collapse of the truce and going back to the fighting will not exceed five years according to the most “optimistic” scenarios.
Al-Zaytouna Centre thanks Prof. Dr. Walid ‘Abd al-Hay for authoring the original text on which this Assessment was based