Gaza ceasefire a bust, but Israel is making headway
By: Brooklyn Middleton
At the very end of the 24th day of the Israeli military’s offensive in the Gaza Strip, the United States and the United Nations indicated all parties and militant factions had agreed to a 72-hour ceasefire slated to begin at 08:00 local time (05:00 GMT) on August 1.
Two quiet hours at the beginning of the much-needed humanitarian ceasefire passed before air raid sirens sounded in the southern Israeli community of Karem Shalom – indicating incoming projectiles being fired from Gaza – followed by retaliatory Israeli artillery strikes on multiple positions, killing at least ten Palestinians.
Yet another ceasefire has ended without progress toward a longer lasting truce
This latest ceasefire attempt came after the Palestinian death toll had risen to at least 1,400 – a figure that includes both Palestinian civilians and militants – while the Israeli Defense Forces’ death toll climbed to 61 with another three Israeli civilians killed.
Despite the fact that this latest ceasefire also spiraled into failure, it should not be completely ruled out that a de-escalation of violence could still occur; the primary reason for this assessment is that Israel is nearing the completion of its stated primary objective: According to Haaretz, 90 percent of the tunnels have been destroyed. Secondly, while Hamas leaders’ apparently icy relations with the Egyptian military that ousted its Muslim Brotherhood allies lessen Cairo’s influence on the militant group, the rising death toll and fact that Hamas has secured few major strategic victories has momentarily taken precedence over this it seems.
With that said, if Hamas achieves its long sought after goal of capturing an IDF soldier or if it infiltrates a southern Israeli community and carries out an attack, the possibility of a ceasefire in the coming days could diminish significantly.
Despite Hamas’ inevitable bellicose statements and vows to reject any ceasefire that falls short of completely lifting the blockade, it accepted this 72-hour ceasefire despite the stipulation that IDF troops would remain in Gaza and continue carrying out tunnel destruction operations.
Is Hamas now weakened?
Hamas’ acceptance of this stipulation, which one could assess was one of the key points leading to the rejection of the other ceasefires, is, in my mind, the most solid evidence to show Hamas is now weakened to the point where the group is ready to negotiate.
As the Israeli army continues working on destroying tunnels, diplomatic efforts for negotiations appear now to be actually involving the most important groups; despite the fact that days ago U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry attempted to broker a ceasefire without Egypt playing any significant role. This attempt was quickly rejected by Israel and lambasted by the Israeli press and it appears the U.S. now clearly recognizes any negotiations without Egypt will fail to bring any remotely sustainable results. During the truce, the U.S. State Department indicated that “Israeli and Palestinian delegations will immediately be going to Cairo for negotiations with the Government of Egypt, at the invitation of Egypt, aimed at reaching a durable cease-fire.”
While a longer-term ceasefire, one that will likely return to the November 2012 agreements, remains in the works, the increasingly dire unfolding humanitarian crisis in Gaza should also be addressed; medical supplies continue dwindling, with the Palestinian Authority reportedly refusing Israeli aid and hospitals completely overwhelmed with patients. The Israeli military field hospital at the Erez crossing has reportedly only seen the treatment of about 30 Palestinians, likely due to the fact that seeking care from an enemy in the middle of a war as well as Hamas’ public execution of 30 “Israeli collaborators” may have instilled legitimate fear into Palestinians desperately in need of medical care.
That said, now that yet another ceasefire has ended without progress toward a longer lasting truce, Israel, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority should coordinate efforts to open the Rafah crossing for the evacuation of wounded Palestinian civilians with Palestinian Authority security forces deployed to the vicinity of the crossing. Opening Rafah for humanitarian purposes as quickly as possible could lead to a longer term arrangement with the PA manning the crossing – a bold diplomatic step toward empowering Abbas as well as a crucial humanitarian arrangement.
Brooklyn Middleton is an American Political and Security Risk Analyst reporting from Israel. Her work has appeared in Turkish and Israeli publications including The Times of Israel and Hürriyet Daily News. She has previously written about U.S. President Obama’s policy in Syria as well as the emerging geopolitical threats Israel faces as it pursues its energy interests in the Eastern Mediterranean. She is currently researching Ayatollah Khomeini’s influence on Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant groups to complete her MA in Middle Eastern Studies. You can follow her on Twitter here: @BklynMiddleton.