Diplomatic Efforts Yield Prospect of Tenuous Cease-Fire in Gaza

Tensions are still running high in the Middle East, and the potential for hostilities to reignite in the coming weeks remains

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ALESSIO ROMENZI FOR TIME

A Palestinian child climbs over the remains of a house reportedly destroyed by an overnight Israeli air strike on the village of Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip on Nov. 18, 2012

Before Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was due to arrive late on Tuesday in Jerusalem, Hamas announced that a tentative cease-fire agreement with Israel had nearly been reached in the Gaza Strip. But Clinton’s trip isn’t for nothing. Tensions are still running high throughout the region, and the potential for hostilities to reignite in the coming weeks remains.

A “calming down” period was expected to be formally announced on Tuesday night at 2100 GMT in Cairo, where negotiators on all sides had been meeting to hammer out a deal. But that was postponed amid reports that Israel had yet to sign off on a deal to end the violence that began seven days ago.

Hostilities began when Israel assassinated Hamas’ top military commander in the Gaza Strip. Israel then launched an aerial-bombing campaign targeting Hamas sites where bombs were suspected of being housed or made. Operation Pillar of Defense, as Israel called it, came in response to months of Hamas bombing in southern Israel. While most of those bombs — 800 in the month leading up to last week’s escalation — were deflected by Israel’s U.S.-subsidized Iron Dome system, which shoots down incoming rockets, more than a million residents in southern Israel have been living under constant threat. Three Israelis and more than 100 Palestinians have been killed in the past week.

(PHOTOS: A New Gaza War: Israel and Palestinian Militants Trade Fire)

The cease-fire is “very fragile,” says an Arab diplomatic source, “one bomb hits Tel Aviv, and it’s over.” To some extent, the source said, Israel was testing the Arab response in a changed political landscape. The Arab Spring shuffled Hamas’ allegiances in the region, from Shi‘ite Iran and Syria to Sunni Turkey, Qatar and Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood currently in power in Egypt decades ago spawned Hamas, which is Sunni, and Hamas recently moved its headquarters from Damascus to Cairo. Israel wanted to see what the reaction would be to action in Gaza, the diplomat said.

Israel has parliamentary elections coming up on Jan. 22. Once those are over, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will likely be stronger politically should Israel decide that ground action is needed in Gaza. “This operation is politically very risky especially when you’re going to the precipice of a ground operation ahead of elections,” says Robert Danin, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “This is not a Prime Minister prone to taking a great risk.” Though Israel has amassed tens of thousands of troops along the Gaza border, the cease-fire means they are unlikely to cross it — at least not right now. Aerial bombing has taken out most of Israel’s targets. The only action left would be to physically go in and dismantle Hamas’ rocket assembly lines.

Part of what provoked Netanyahu to action was Hamas’ use of Iranian-made Fajr 5 medium-range missiles, smuggled from Iran through Sudan and the Egyptian Sinai, and which have extended Hamas’ reach to the outskirts of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Israel wants to not only strip Hamas of this capability, but to discourage future attacks. “You remember the war with Hizballah in 2006?” Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren told TIME on Friday. “Hizballah hasn’t launched a single rocket into Israel since. They learned it was not worth their while. That’s our goal here with Hamas.”

(MORE: The Israeli Assault on Gaza: How Surgical Are the Strikes?)

Oren said that like that conflict, there’s a good chance that Iran could be behind Hamas’ aggression. “How much does Iran want a distraction from Iran’s nuclear program? You can’t discount that,” he said. “Most of these terrorist organizations — I mean Islamic Jihad, the Palestinian Resistance Committee — are fully owned and directed by Iran. Iran has every interest in provoking a war in the south. It’s distracting not only from the Iranian nuclear program, it’s also detracting from what’s happening in Syria.”

Israel’s impressive display of its Iron Dome technology, which has shot down 90% of Hamas’ incoming rockets, isn’t just a message to Hamas, it’s also one to Iran and Hizballah. If Israel decides to send ground troops into Gaza or bomb Iran’s nuclear sites, lobbing bombs at Israel would be mostly ineffective.

MORE: Iron Dome: A Missile Shield That Works

14 comments
TedLeavensworth
TedLeavensworth

When things are getting hot in Syria and Iran , they demand action from Jihad and  Hmas because Jihad and Hamas exist on Iranian and syrian money. They oblige and fire rockets into Israel.  Every pro-arab fool misses this point. No one in Gaza wants to die but to receive money from Iran and not to obey them is out of the question. Gaza rockets draw Israeli response - Jihad fires in return and all worlds attention is on Israel and not on Iran and Syria. Jihad and Hams hide among civilians and make their HQ in highly populated areas and in the middle of civilian population so when israelis target Hamas and Jihad activists they hit also civilans which is more then all right with arabs . They sell the pics , mostly fabricated , to all democratic peace loving .........trolls      

WiseOne
WiseOne

I'm with john32322; whether hostilities started with the months of Hamas bombing or earlier incidents, they certainly did not start with the assassination.

Some of you are old enough to remember the Cuban missile crisis.   The rest of you, learn what America did when threatening missiles were to be placed in Cuba.  Not launched, just placed there.

PlumbLine
PlumbLine

There will be peace in the middle east one day, but it will not happen until Christ returns, and all false religions will die in one day, along with the pride of man..............There is only one way to peace........Christ in us, is Peace..........Ephesians 2:16-18....... 16 and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. 17 And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off (Non-Jews) and to those who were near (Jews). 18 For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.

john32322
john32322

This is hilarious. You state that "Hostilities began when Israel" and only later in the paragraph state that "Operation Pillar of Defense, as Israel called it, came in response to months of Hamas bombing in southern Israel.". Is it that months of Hamas bombing is not considered hostilities or am I missing something?

KevinGroenhagen
KevinGroenhagen

I don't think diplomacy has much to do with any possible ceasefire. I think the fact that the terrorists' rockets have been rendered largely ineffective against Israel has much more to do with Hamas crying "uncle."

DaveSalmonson
DaveSalmonson

Ijust find the death counts so very lopsided, from 2009 up to Septemberof this year- 25 Israelis have been killed / 314 Palestinians have beenkilled. Since this has started- 3 Israelis were killed / 110Palestinians, 56 of them were civilians. Many in Israel's government iscalling this action, "Cutting the grass" and are saying they need tobomb the Palestinians back to the stone age.

outsider
outsider

Thanks JNS. You said pillar of defense came in response to months of Hamas bombing Israel.

But Hamas was elected to office; so I'm wondering if you've heard what prompted their bombing in the first place - and whether that action was a gov't (such as it is) action?

I guess that's two ways of asking the same question: why did it start - was there an incident a few months back that began this?

Fla4Me
Fla4Me

@john32322 Yep, it should read "Hostilities began many thousands of years ago when different tribes came in contact with one another.

KevinGroenhagen
KevinGroenhagen

@DaveSalmonson The Palestinians are already in the Stone Age. And note that the terrorists began this by firing rockets at Israel. If there are a greater number of deaths in Gaza, the terrorists have only themselves to blame.

Kiwipolitico6
Kiwipolitico6

@KevinGroenhagen  "The Palestinians are already in the Stone Age".  That's a very racist comment, and is typical of the attitude of many Israeli Jewish people to the Arab population of Israel.  Most have never visited the occupied territories so, for example, they have no idea that the IDF border patrols basically shoot Palestinians on sight if they are doing anything deemed to be posing a 'threat' to security (recently this included shooting dead a 10 year old boy who was throwing stones at a tank).  They are also brought up by their parents and society, and in school, to believe that Palestinians are the sworn enemy, and that they are savages committed to the destruction of Israel.  This analysis makes no distinction between the likes of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and the ordinary hard working civilian populations of the occupied territories.  Life in Gaza is, according to many Western commentators who've spent time there, virtually intolerable.  Unemployment is rampant, and there is constant violence.  Combined with limited freedom to leave, it's hardly surprising many young Palestinians choose 'martyrdom' out of a sense of hopelessness about the future, rather than turning against their elected leaders.  

I don't excuse or condone rocket fire against Israel - just saying that the causes and conditions behind it are very complex, and labelling an entire population as 'stone age' is just plain ignorant.  Ismail Haniyeh, political leader of Hamas, has an engineering degree, and is a highly educated man.  A pity he has chosen the road of violence rather than diplomacy, but he certainly isn't a stone age savage.

outsider
outsider

@La_Randy @outsider2011 

Thanks Randy - i wasn't smarting off - i was really not sure what the spark was. I mean, obviously they're upset about the blockade, but i was wondering if there had been a particular instance that started things rolling for them. 

The blockade for trade is probably huge. 

Fla4Me
Fla4Me

@outsider2011 @La_Randy It is huge.  Israel dosn't just stop weapons but anything it wants to say can be used for military purposes.  This can be spun to include almost anything.