No Victors in Israel-Hamas Conflict

Article Summary
Israel, Egypt and Hamas explore exit strategies and options after Operation Pillar of Defense, writes Hani Habib.

Frantic calls are being exchanged in attempts to end the current Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip. Most of these contacts believe that Cairo is the focus of this effort, not only because the Egyptian capital has a direct influence over the Hamas movement that governs the Gaza Strip, but also because Egypt is concerned, as a principal party, in putting an end to this war. 

The reason is that this war has a direct impact on Egyptian national security and US-Egypt ties and on the stability of the Egyptian economy. Cairo is not just an intermediary, but rather a partner in this equation.

Cairo has tried since the beginning of the conflict to contain the potential reaction of Egyptian public opinion. It withdrew its ambassador from Tel Aviv and called on the United Nations Security Council to hold an extraordinary meeting.

However, the most important measure was to dispatch its prime minister to Gaza with the assent of Israel. All these measures may successfully contain the Egyptian popular reaction for a period of time, unless the conflict persists and expands via an Israeli ground invasion that would sweep the Gaza Strip. In this scenario, Cairo will run out of political cards to play. 

Cairo is unable to take more serious political or military measures — whether those be the freezing or abolishment of the Camp David agreements, or deploying military efforts in favor of Gaza. Doing either would leave Cairo with innumerable complexities that could not be resolved. The only option now is to ease the situation and to put an end to the conflict, saving Egypt from embarrassment and accusations of negligence.

This does not mean that Egypt had to take the political and security measures that we mentioned. Egypt doesn't have to be involved in measures that could interrupt the rise of democracy and economic and human development that the country needs to build a strong and influential state, capable of better advocating for the Palestinian cause and all Arab issues from a strong, effective and influential position.

Moreover, under the current circumstances, the Egyptian army cannot be involved in a war since, as everyone knows, it cannot guarantee that the balance of power will be overturned in favor of Egypt and Arabs. This is particularly true given that any type of war in which an unprepared military finds itself involved is unquestionably a lost one. These things are not measured by desires and slogans, but rather by capabilities and interests.

The difficulty in easing the situation so far is primarily linked to the two conflicted parties, Hamas and Israel, which both deliberately entered into confrontation. Each party now strongly desires to end this war — for different reasons, of course.

However, each party wants to calm the situation at the moment that it seems victorious and appears to be making achievements on the ground. Hamas wants the results of this war to be reflected in steps that confirm its dominance on the Gaza Strip — free of any Israeli threat, permanent blockade or measures linked to the opening of the crossing points, particularly with Egypt. Moreover, Hamas wants the results to lead to a political recognition of the movement, after it proved its excellence in fighting the occupation during this conflict, which Hamas didn’t want to enter into at this particular moment.

On the other hand, the Netanyahu government, which was surprised by the strong and effective Palestinian response, has realized that the objectives of this war will be hard to achieve and that the war looks impossible to win, in light of its preliminary results.

The Netanyahu government fell into a trap that is hard to escape. Moreover, after the rockets fired from Gaza reached the central Israeli cities — including Jerusalem — the rules of the game changed completely. This has put the Netanyahu government in an extremely complex dilemma. In fact, continuing the war will have a high cost in human lives and will not get rid of Gaza’s missiles.

This may push Israel to agree to calm the situation after delivering painful strikes to Gaza, through which Israel seems to be achieving its goals of reducing the resistance’s capability of firing rockets. Under this allegation, Israel has used every possible means of threatening a ground war as an element of pressure on Hamas. This has prompted all Arab and international parties to intensify efforts to calm the situation, which is still hard to achieve as both parties desire to ease the war only when they are victorious — even though there are no victors in such wars.

There are Israeli signs referring to the occupation of the Philadelphi Route along the Gaza-Egypt border, although the possibility of this is very limited, in light of changes in Egypt, particularly the popular reaction or the growing presence of jihadist forces in the Sinai Peninsula.

If occupation was possible before these changes took place, Israel’s threat to resort to this option will increase the pressure on the Egyptian president and the Muslim Brotherhood. Moreover, achieving this option will cost Israeli forces heavily even if the mission is a success.

Threatening of this option — as a possible alternative to a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip — is more likely to give the Netanyahu government the valid achievement that it most needs, in light of the outcomes of the conflict four days after it broke out.

The options of the Netanyahu government are still limited, except for continuing its aerial bombardment, which is not an option that could end the battle or achieve the stated objectives of this operation, particularly in that this bombardment is not directed at specific targets.

This indicates that the “targets bank” is almost depleted, after Palestinian targets took security precautions. Over time, if this option is still pursued, the Netanyahu government will find itself in bankruptcy.

However, in the event of resorting to a ground invasion, the Israeli government will not be able to easily end this war — which will be determined on the ground, where the Israeli army is probably in for surprises.

Found in: operation pillar of defense, hamas, egypt-gaza smuggling, benjamin netanyahu

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