Regional Players Fail to Resolve the Israeli-Hamas War

On Friday, July 25, Israel’s cabinet unanimously rejected an initial ceasefire proposed by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.  Earlier in the day, Kerry and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon met with Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri in Cairo, determined to find a way to restore calm to the region after almost three weeks of war between Israel and Hamas.

Israel had considered a possible weeklong humanitarian truce with Hamas, but the terrorist group added demands to the proposed period of calm that Israel could not accept.  Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu counter-offered 12 hours of quiet beginning Saturday morning, July 26.

Hamas has continued to insist that Egypt and Israel open up their border crossings and end a 17-year blockade of the Gaza Strip.  However, the two neighboring countries do not want to strengthen the terrorist government’s grip on Gaza.  America had hoped for a longer pause in the fighting in order to deal with economic, political, and security issues that are now at a crisis level in Gaza.

With daily pictures on the evening news of the bloodshed in the Gaza Strip, Israel’s positive efforts at public diplomacy have waned.  But Israel wants to stop the constant rocket fire targeting six million of its citizens.  The IDF is also determined to get rid of sophisticated tunnels that Hamas has used to try and infiltrate the Jewish State in an effort to commit a massive terror attack.  More than 80% of the Israeli public has supported Netanyahu’s handling of the current crisis. His government is determined to deal a strong blow to Hamas in order to re-establish long-term deterrence on Israel’s southern border.

Kerry thought that with international involvement he could convince Israel and Hamas to enter into a ceasefire agreement now, followed by intense negotiations for a more permanent truce.  It would have highlighted America’s success at diplomatic efforts in the Middle East.  The U.S. wants to remain the top peace broker, bringing together several Arab nations to stop the current cycle of violence.  It’s one way that the U.S. is looking to reassert its power in the region after many blunders in its foreign policy.

America’s current determination is also to stop violent anti-Israel demonstrations in the streets of Jerusalem, Paris, London, Amman, and other cities.  This violence could lead to a third Intifada by Palestinians in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria), who have continued to engage in mass rioting and clashes with Israeli police.

Earlier this month, it was Hamas that rejected Israel’s offer of “calm for calm,” followed by Hamas rejecting Egypt’s ceasefire proposal, which would have kept Israeli ground forces from entering Gaza.  Egypt’s foreign minister said that Hamas would have saved the lives of its people had it accepted the Egyptian initiative.  That ceasefire agreement was approved by the Arab League, but stubbornly refused by Hamas.

Hamas remains determined to attack Israel to gain favor in the Arab world and improve its reputation.  Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, its parent organization, want to continue a bloody confrontation with the Jewish State in order to become less isolated, especially after cutting ties with Syria’s President Bashar Assad and Egypt’s President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi.

Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim has been the main bankroller for Hamas.  Qatar has been trying to regain a position of influence in the region, along with in Turkey.  The Qatari emir visited the king of Saudi Arabia on July 22, 2014 in an effort to reach an agreement on an Israeli-Hamas truce.  That visit was followed by Ban Ki-moon on July 23. 

At the same time, Qatar and Turkey tried to sideline Egypt because of its negative stand on the Muslim Brotherhood.  Furthermore, Hamas rejected Egyptian mediation efforts in the conflict due to its bad relationship with Cairo since Sisi took power.

Currently, Turkey’s influence in the region has also been weakened because of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s belligerence, resulting in a vacuum of Turkish ambassadors residing in Cairo, Damascus, and Tel Aviv.  Because of Israel’s refusal to accept a Palestinian-Hamas unity government, Turkey has put the full blame for the current outbreak of hostilities squarely on Israel.

At one point in the war, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was shuttling among Arab states, trying to resolve the conflict.  Reportedly, the Palestinian leadership made a suggestion, as part of the Egyptian initiative, which would have included a ceasefire followed by five days of negotiations.

What is developing in this current conflict is a power play between regional alliances – one side representing Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and, behind the scenes, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and the other side representing Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, Qatar, and Turkey.

Each of these Middle East alliances have a political agenda that contains opposing interests and ideologies.  This is complicating efforts to stop the fighting between Israel and Hamas in order to achieve a lasting truce.

Hamas has relied not only on Qatar for finances, but also on Iran, Syria, and Hezb'allah for its military support.  During the current war, it launched a long-range M320 Syrian-made missile that hit Israel’s town of Hadera.  In March 2014, Israel’s navy seized a ship that contained 40 Iranian M302 surface-to-surface missiles destined for the Gaza Strip.

Now, much of Hamas’s rocket supply has been depleted by Israeli forces, and by the terror group’s constant rocket barrage on Israeli towns and cities.  However, the IDF still wants to knock out all the cross-border tunnels.  This will keep Hamas terrorists from attempting to infiltrate Israeli southern communities, as was the case on July 8 and July 14.  If Israeli troops push farther into the Gaza Strip, it will be to eliminate weapons depots and ammunition stockpiles.  In its third stage of Operation Protective Edge, Israel would attempt to destroy Hamas’s military infrastructure.

As of this writing, there is no clarity on when the current war will end.  Yet one thing is certain…Israel’s Operation Protective Edge against Hamas has brought to the surface, once again, the greater regional conflicts among Arab States.

In the meantime, Israel is winning the war in Gaza, dealing a major blow to Hamas.  Israeli leaders hope this will lead to a change in the Gaza government, a demilitarization of the Gaza Strip, and a restoration of lives and homes to Gaza residences.  Most of all, Israel is determined that those IDF soldiers who lost their lives fighting Hamas will be remembered as having successfully restored peace and quiet to Israel’s southern communities and to the rest of the country under the threat of rocket fire.

C. Hart is a news analyst reporting on political, diplomatic, and military issues as they relate to Israel, the Middle East, and the international community.