With a long-term ceasefire between Israel and Hamas increasingly unlikely, the IDF is gearing up for a ground incursion into Gaza. According to DEBKA Weekly’s military and intelligence sources, this iteration of Operation Protective Edge will, barring last-minute changes in the field, commence by the middle of next week. It will be broad in scale. The Gaza conflict is therefore about to move forward on two tracks – the military and the diplomatic.
Israel air power failed to reach Hamas’ underground war rooms
- Although the Israeli Air Force hit and destroyed more than 1,500 Hamas military targets in Gaza, the groups’ underground military command center remains intact. (See a separate item in this issue on the IDF’s hesitance to strike the bunker).
- They wiped out 3,000 rockets, but the terrorist group that rules Gaza still has 6,000 more at its disposal and its arsenal is topped up daily by local production and smuggled supplies through the Sinai Peninsula.
- In the 10 days of the ongoing conflict, Hamas has launched nearly 2,000 rockets at the Israeli civilian population. The vast majority landed in open areas, except for the 200 or so which exploded near their targets, and at least 150 that were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.
- These rocket salvos are directed from a command and control center buried deep inside Hamas’ underground bunker war room, which is segmented into three compartments: terrorist operations; a command center; and logistics, including the storage of ammunition and other military gear. None of these compartments were damaged by Israel’s air strikes and they continue to function at capacity.
Up to 100,000 reservists may be called up
- The IDF has so far mobilized 50,000 reservists to fight Hamas in Gaza. Another 20-25,000 soldiers are likely to be called up as the fighting continues – rising to a potential maximum of 100,000 troops if the clashes spread to new fronts on Israel’s northern borders with Syria and Lebanon.
The scattered rocket fire into Israel’s north in the past week suggests that Iranian and Syrian-dominated Palestinian organizations may be poised to pounce on Israel from their host-countries of Syria or Lebanon.
Two diplomatic channels run into the sand
- Egyptian President Fattah El Sisi’s mediation efforts are unlikely to result in a comprehensive or long-term truce, if the opinions of officials in Jerusalem, Gaza and Cairo are any measure. No party involved in mediation, be it regional or international, is truly interested in reaching a deal – they’re all just keen to be seen trying to avert an all-out war. International peace brokers are also wary of any step that might give Hamas a boost.
- The effort to hammer out a ceasefire is running on two separate tracks, led by Cairo and an Ankara-Doha team. El Sisi’s government has come down hard on the Muslim Brotherhood on its own soil, and it would be pleased to see the brotherhood’s paramilitary variants, Hamas and its Izz-e- din Al Qassam Brigades, dismantled or at least seriously debilitated.
- The Palestinian Authority and its Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (better known as Abu Mazen) share Cairo’s goals. But Hamas understands that no truce will hold water without the participation of the Egyptian military, which is blockading Gaza’s southern border. The Palestinian Islamists are therefore pretending to cooperate with the track led by Egypt, while lending its real support to the Turkish-Qatari channel.
When the battle is over, Hamas hopes to gain the patronage of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Qatari ruler Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani, and so it behooves the group to get these countries in on the negotiating game now.
Neither avenue is expected to bear fruit though, given El Sisi’s close alliance with the Saudi-Gulf bloc and its own fierce rivalry with Turkey and Qatar.
Major powers stay clear of the fray
Notably absent from the web of diplomacy being spun to pin down a suspension of hostilities are major regional and international powers. The US and Saudi Arabia are taking care to stay aloof from the Gaza dispute for their own reasons, and even Egypt’s participation is rather halfhearted. Cairo abstained from referring the conflict to the Arab League, so as to escape any fallout from a diplomatic failure.
Anyway, this veteran group looks more and more like a spent force in the Arab world, scarcely up to the formidable, not to say, impossible, task of brokering peace between Israel and Palestinian extremists.
Iran is the sole exception: As the Vienna nuclear talks with the P5+1 foundered, Tehran issued instructions to Hamas and Jihad Islami to keep the rockets flying against Israel. (See a separate item in this issue on the Vienna talks).