Suffering and strategy
While Gaza is coming under sustained Israeli attack, Tel Aviv is manoeuvring to use recent events to its best strategic advantage, in particular relative to Egypt, writes Saleh Al-Naami
Dr Monzher Qorayqa was going home Friday afternoon after a 12-hour shift at Dar Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza when he found his brother Moataz very distraught because his son Islam, aged five, had suddenly developed a high fever. The doctor, who works in the ICU at the hospital, decided to take Islam and his father to the hospital. After the necessary tests, a diagnosis, and a prescription by one of the paediatricians there, Qorayqa headed out to return their family home with his brother and nephew. He was no more than 200 metres away from the hospital when an unmanned Israeli surveillance drone launched two missiles at their car, killing all three instantly. The bombing also injured several passersby.
The scene reminded many in Gaza of the crimes committed by Israel before the last war on the Strip at the end of 2008.
Minutes before the call for prayer at dusk on Saturday, marking the end of another day of fasting during Ramadan, six-year-old Amr and seven-year-old Salim were playing near Al-Wafa Hospital which specialises in paralysis in eastern Gaza City, where their families live. They were targeted by an unmanned Israeli drone and sustained severe to medium injuries.
Since Israel began responding to the Eilat attack on Thursday afternoon, 15 Palestinians have been killed and tens injured. The Israeli army has especially targeted members of the Popular Resistance Committees whose general leader, Abu Awad Al-Nerb, was assassinated Thursday evening, along with several committee leaders in Rafah city. Since even before the Eilat attack was over, Israel claimed the perpetrators came from Gaza. Tel Aviv even justified the assassination of general leader Al-Nerb by saying that the "committees" planned and carried out the attack, despite firm and official denials by the committees.
But Israel does not seem interested in carrying out an extensive land operation in retribution for what happened, since this would not serve its strategic interests ahead of September when the UN is scheduled to look into a Palestinian request for recognition at the UN. Images of death and destruction among civilians would not serve Israel's purpose in preventing the largest number of states from supporting the Palestinian request.
Sources told Al-Ahram Weekly that the Egyptian Foreign Ministry and intelligence apparatus are in constant contact with the leaders of Palestinian factions in Gaza and representatives of the government there, on the one hand, and the Israeli government on the other, to prevent conditions from unravelling and to restore the ceasefire that was in place until events exploded.
The prime minister in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, made several phone calls to Egyptian General Intelligence Chief Major General Murad Muwafi to discuss a return to a truce. Sources told the Weekly that Egyptian officials have also contacted Ramadan Abdallah Shalah, the secretary-general of Islamic Jihad, to discuss the prospect of a ceasefire. Informed Palestinian sources said that it is as yet unknown if the Egyptians have received a commitment from Israel not to escalate tensions in the hope that Cairo will be able to bring both sides back to a truce, or whether the Egyptians are mediating without such a commitment. Especially that Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has issued several threats about the high price that leaders and members of the Palestinian resistance will pay.
An informed Palestinian source told the Weekly that Cairo has been successful in arranging a return to a ceasefire between the two sides, and that Haniyeh's government told representatives of the Palestinian factions to prepare for a ceasefire at any moment.
Yehia Moussa, deputy leader of the Hamas bloc in parliament, said that his group is interested in a ceasefire, and accused Israel of always violating ceasefire agreements.
"We are interested in a truce," Moussa told the Weekly, "but we want this ceasefire to be based on strong and sturdy foundations, not merely conditions on the ground or subjective reasons that would render it a fragile truce. Israel is the one that always initiates a breach of ceasefire and has a narrow outlook based on Tel Aviv's belief that it can do as it pleases but others can't. This is unacceptable."
Moussa praised Egyptian mediation efforts to restore a ceasefire. He added that in light of conditions in Egypt after the revolution, Cairo -- like Hamas -- is interested in maintaining peace on its northern border. He emphasised that the new leadership in Egypt is acting out of nationalistic and patriotic intentions, and therefore is sensitive to what the Egyptian street wants and would never allow Israel to bully the Palestinian people again.
Moussa emphasised that the response of the people and government of Egypt surprised Israel "and demonstrated to the rulers in Tel Aviv that a new reality has arrived in the Arab world after the revolutions of democracy, and no one is willing to be a 'strategic treasure' for Israel". He noted that Israel's conduct proves it's confused over the repercussions of any escalation of violence against Gaza. The Hamas leader continued that Israel fears opening more fronts if it escalates confrontations against Gaza, and that Israel justified its attacks based on deceitful reasons since the Popular Resistance Committees whom Tel Aviv accused of the Eilat attack have denied responsibility.
If Cairo is successful in convincing the two sides to observe a truce once again, this development would demonstrate that Israeli politicians have not yet agreed with military leaders who are eager to carry out a military strike against Hamas. Yediot Aharonot newspaper reported that all Israeli officers in the southern region are calling for an aggressive attack against Hamas in response for continued missile attacks against southern towns and cities. The paper added that the Israeli army is not preparing for an extensive assault or deploying land troops, but instead is looking into several options that aim to aggressively strike Hamas leaders and the group's military infrastructure.
The newspaper quoted military sources as saying that there are several targets for the Israeli army, and that the army is waiting for orders from politicians. Meanwhile, the opposition led by Kadima Party has taken a hardline position against Gaza and Hamas. Shaul Mofaz, chairman of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee and a leading Kadima figure, urged Binyamin Netanyahu's cabinet to hasten in toppling the Hamas government in Gaza and targeting its leaders and infrastructure.
"Israel cannot participate in a long-term war of attrition," Mofaz asserted during a special session of the Knesset committee. Likud Knesset member Ofir Akonis proposed that Israel will carry out a lethal strike against Hamas to make it regret recent events.
Meanwhile, the spokesman of the Israeli army, Brigadier Yoav Mordechai, said that Hamas is not directly responsible for the missile attacks on the Israeli towns and cities, but told Israel Radio that this does not exempt Hamas from responsibility for what happened.
Undoubtedly, Israel's attempt to blame Gaza for the attack on Eilat is first and foremost a plot to spoil relations between Hamas and Egypt. Israel believes that Cairo will view any Palestinian carrying out attacks against Israel from Sinai as enabling Tel Aviv to bring international pressure on post-revolution Egypt and restrict its mobility. Tel Aviv also believes that the avalanche of international pressure on Egypt would serve Israel's strategic interests, and could force Egyptian intelligence to continue security cooperation with Tel Aviv in a manner that serves its strategic goals.
This is especially true in terms of cooperating with Israel to end arms smuggling into Gaza, and an attempt to block any future government in Egypt from turning over a new leaf with Hamas.
Cairo may be able to convince both sides to a ceasefire, but all signs indicate that this will be a temporary and fragile truce.