Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu ruled Sunday, Aug. 21, that his government's first priority is to let Egypt's military rulers have the kudos of brokering a ceasefire in the four-day Palestinian missile war against Israel from Gaza – and deal some time in the future with the Palestinian Jihad Islami, which fired most of the 100 missiles exploding in Israel from Gaza since last Thursday.
debkafile's analysts criticize this decision as one of the prime minister's most unfortunate strategic mistakes since he took office nearly three years ago. During the day, Netanyahu directed Maj. Gen. Meir Eshel, head of the Planning Division in the General Command, who was standing by in Cairo from early morning, to accept Egypt's proposal for Hamas to declare a ceasefire as of 9 pm Sunday night, Aug. 21.
The prime minister acted under the harsh impression of Cairo's decision a day earlier to recall the Egyptian ambassador from Israel to protest the deaths of Egyptian policemen during Thursday's Palestinian terror attack on the Eilat road. Washington stepped in speedily to defuse that crisis.
According to our sources, up until Sunday afternoon, Netanyahu had not briefed either Defense Minister Ehud Barak or Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on his decision to accept a Gaza ceasefire, sharing it only with Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz. The defense minister while touring the Iron Dome anti-missile battery in Ashkelon Sunday told the suffering citizens of the town they would have to put up with the attacks for another few days, but Israel would be sure to "separate [its enemies'] heads from their bodies."
Barak had not realized when he made this remark that the prime minister had ruled in favor of taking up Egypt's offer to mediate a ceasefire and against embarking on military action against the Iran-sponsored Palestinian terrorists plaguing southern Israel with hourly missile fire.
Netanyahu was won over by the assurance Washington received from Egypt's military rulers that the Jihad Islami's leader Ramadan Shalah had endorsed the Hamas truce.
Because the prime minister did not trust Shalah, he held out a single condition for Israel's acceptance: The Palestinians must uphold the ceasefire for 12 hours up until Monday morning, Aug. 22.
There were no other provisions on the Israeli side – any more than there were five months ago, when the Netanyahu government gave its unconditional consent to a Hamas ceasefire from April 24. Then too he agreed the IDF would not strike terrorist targets in the Gaza Strip so long as no missiles were fired from there.
debkafile's military sources complain that Netanyahu did not even insist on Hamas taking responsibility for preventing any terrorists from any Gaza-based organization striking Israel targets – like the gunmen from Gaza who shot up the Eilat Highway near the Egyptian border Thursday and left eight Israelis dead.
Three hours after the deadline Hamas set for the truce to go into effect, Jihad Islami predictably fired another three Grad missiles against Ashkelon. As the night wore on, more missiles were fired at Ashkelon, Sderot and the Eshkol district, following which the Israeli Air Force struck terrorist targets in northern and central Gaza..
Military circles explain that these truces often need 24 hours to take hold before the attacks die down altogether.
However, according to our sources Jihad was making a show of defiance. It was intended to show Israel, Egypt and Hamas that not only had Iran's Palestinian surrogate broken all records in the number of missiles fired on Israel's cities, but it was free to restart its missile offensive any time it wished.
Those sources don't make light of the prime minister's overriding desire to pacify the new rulers of Egypt and keep the Egyptian-Israel peace treaty safe from the disruptions which could result from strained relations. This consideration is a weighty one, they say. On the other hand, the cost of this concession to Israel's national security interests is prohibitive:
1. By giving into Cairo, Netanyahu has already gone a long way toward meeting the military rulers' demands to revise the peace accords signed at Camp David and allow Egyptian troops to be deployed on the Egyptian-Israeli Sinai border for the first time in three decades.
2. This concession is just the start. The generals depend heavily on the Muslim Brotherhood for controlling the Egyptian street and its hotheads and will therefore present Israel with more demands to further the interests of coexistence with the Brothers.
3. Letting Jihad Islami have the last word in the Gaza Strip confrontation grants its masters, Iran and Hizballah, a victory and encourages them to believe that the Netanyahu government is easy prey and will cave in again under the pressure of renewed missile and terror attacks.
4. Since Israel's disengagement from the Gaza Strip and its army's withdrawal from the Philadelphi border dividing Gaza from Sinai, every understanding Israel and Egypt have reached has one way or another undermined Israeli security and undercut its strategic leverage – mainly because Cairo never fully met its obligations. There is no reason that this time should be any different.