Six mortar rounds exploded on empty ground in the Eshkol farm district abutting on the Gaza Strip shortly before Tuesday March 13 noon, less than 12 hours after Cairo announced a ceasefire. debkafile’s military sources report that while gaining a respite from the halt in Israeli operations, the Palestinian organizations, including Hamas, are resolved to keep up a low level of fire on Israeli civilian locations so as to establish their prerogative to shoot at will regardless of any ceasefire deals.
Israel’s leaders are apt to accept this fragile arrangement to avoid opening an all-out military front on their southwestern border. Moreover, fire on the small towns and villages close to the Gaza border is much less troublesome than the heavy Grad assaults on major towns conducted by Jihad Islami until Monday night, At most, Israel’s air force will try and knock out the missile and mortar teams.
The Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz admitted Tuesday Israel’s military response to terrorist attacks would be compatible with the level of aggression against Israel. “Peace for peace, and fire for fire,” he declared.
Beersheba mayor Ruby Danilovitch’s voice went unheeded therefore when he assured President Shimon Peres Tuesday that the people of the south would back to the hilt a government decision to finish the job, because an indecisive end to the current round of violence would bring the aggressors back for another round within months.
debkafile reported earlier Tuesday:A
high-ranking Egyptian official reported before dawn Tuesday, March 13, that Israel and the Palestinian organizations in Gaza, including Jihad Islami and the Popular Resistance Committees, had agreed to a ceasefire which went into effect at one o’clock a.m. Neither Israel nor Jihad Islami released statements of a truce. And shortly after 0400 missile warnings sounded in Ashkelon.
The initial Egyptian statement remains to be clarified. It interprets the Israeli position as having accepted Jihad’s condition for halting its missile barrage and agreed to halt targeted killings of high-profile terrorists.
All Israeli defense officials affirmed in backdoor negotiations with Egyptian intelligence officials, debkafile’s sources report, was its standard position: If the Palestinians halt cross-border attacks from the Gaza Strip and Egyptian Sinai, there will be no need for targeted killings. And if the Palestinians stop shooting missiles from the Gaza Strip, the Israeli Air Force will have no reason to strike terrorist targets.
An Egyptian delegation has reportedly arrived in Gaza to discuss with the strip’s Hamas rulers terms for restoring fuel supplies, shortages of which have forced them to severely ration power to the population. Cairo has kept Gaza short in order to squeeze Hamas into pulling the military facilities and units it deployed in northern Sinai back into the Gaza Strip.
Egyptian officials deny their delegates offered to resupply Gaza as part of the still-shadowy ceasefire deal. It is possible, say our sources, that Cairo used it as leverage to make Hamas to force the pro-Iranian Jihad Islami to stop firing missiles and slow – if not abandon – its four-day offensive on Israel’s towns and villages.
debkafile: For the Cairo-Hamas truce maneuver to work, all the parties involved must give ground: Israel must tacitly leave Jihad with the unspoken prerogative for deciding when Israel has violated the “deal” and responding with a fresh missile offensive; Jihad undertake to halt its terrorist operations against Israel from Sinai – albeit shrugging off responsibility if its networks go into action to duplicate former attacks on Israel. Because Egypt must give up for now its most pressing demand to recover control of northern and central Sinai from the Hamas and Jihad Islami forces which have overrun parts of the peninsula.
It is therefore hard to see how this loose patchwork of deals – if they are indeed finalized – can hold up for long.
debkafile reported earlier Monday, March 12:
The combined Egyptian-Israeli-Hamas effort to negotiate an early ceasefire in the current round of Palestinian-Israeli violence struck several major obstacles Monday, March 12: debkafile’s intelligence sources report a Cairo demand for any truce deal to embody a Palestinian Hamas and Jihad Islami commitment to withdraw their forces from Sinai and stop using the peninsula for terrorist operations against Israel. Egypt’s military rulers are resolved to use this opportunity to chase the terrorists out and restore their control over Sinai.
However, Palestinian leaders, including Hamas, are playing innocent, claiming to the Egyptian mediator Intelligence chief Gen. Murad Muwafi that they have no armed presence in Sinai and would never impair Egyptian sovereignty.
Four days into the Gaza violence, this impasse has brought the mediation effort to a close.
debkafile’s military sources report that acceding to Cairo’s demand would oblige the Palestinian terrorist organizations to dismantle the logistic, operational and military infrastructure they have built in Sinai. Hamas has even transferred all its weapons manufacturing, including missiles, from the Gaza Strip where it was vulnerable to Israeli attack to safe locations in northern Sinai, along with its training facilities.
This tactic has worked: Most of Hamas’ military facilities were out of reach of Israeli Air Force bombings in the current round of violence because none remained in the Gaza Strip, except for a forward position.
The Egyptian ultimatum would require Hamas to pull its military machine and weapons production back into the Gaza Strip and Jihad Islami to evacuate its terrorist networks which carried out a cross-border attack last August killing 8 Israelis and were preparing a follow-up.
Another obstacle on the road to a ceasefire is Egypt’s refusal to hold direct, or even indirect, talks with Jihad Islami, Tehran’s Palestinian surrogate. Gen. Muwafi addressed his mediation effort to Hamas, a fairly useless exercise since it is the Jihad Islami which has been shooting the missiles.
The breakdown of negotiations, such as they were, has led Israel to escalate its military pressure on Gaza and intensify its air strikes, in the hope of forcing Jihad Islami to stop the missile assaults on its cities.
But for now, its leaders show no sign of being beaten into accepting a truce and are unlikely to do so, so long as Tehran wants the violence to go on.
The Gaza confrontation is therefore evolving into a military clash between Israel and Iran.
Hamas, finding it increasingly difficult to stay on the sidelines, called on all Palestinian organizations Monday to unite and close ranks against “Zionist aggression.” Hamas lined up with the Jihad sine qua non that a truce be conditional on an Israeli guarantee to discontinue targeted killings of wanted terror chiefs.
For now, the Hamas is still trying to pressure Egypt and Israel into coming to terms on a ceasefire. Failure would inevitably bring Gaza’s ruling faction into the battle against Israel.
Unless these circumstances undergo a radical shift, the million Israelis confined to shelters have no reason to look forward to relief from the missile attacks on their homes and schools – quite the opposite: The conflict looks like escalating.