Exclusive: Ground Invasion of Gaza On Hold, U.S. Efforts Intensive, Ceasefire Perhaps in Days

by Yossi Melman

TEL AVIV — It is not over, but here is an update on what feels like a mini-war. The new round of violence between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas faction that governs Gaza has been raging since Wednesday, when Israel’s air force assassinated the military commander of Hamas. (See the official aerial reconnaissance video released by the IDF, the Israel Defense Forces.)  (See video shot in a Gaza street as the remnants of his car burn.)

In three days and nights, Hamas fired 750 rockets at Israel, including half a dozen in the direction of Tel Aviv and 2 flying roughly toward Jerusalem.  Eighty of the launches failed.

Israel’s 5th Iron Dome anti-missile battery installed near Tel Aviv

The Iron Dome defensive system, with its sophisticated radars that calculate where a missile is headed soon after it takes off, intercepted 230 Hamas rockets.  Twenty-seven rockets did hit urban areas and caused damage.  Three Israelis died.

On the Gaza side, Israeli air strikes and artillery fire (some of it from navy ships in the Mediterranean) have killed at least 40 Palestinians.  Israel’s ilitary says most of them were Hamas combatants, but some civilians including children were also killed.

Israel’s air force flew one-thousand sorties against more than 800 targets.

As for global diplomacy, the Israeli government seems very pleased that the United States and many other foreign governments are expressing understanding for Israel’s “right to self-defense” after being hit by hundreds of missiles from Gaza in the months leading up to November 14.  Hamas’ leadership, before its headquarters building in Gaza was blown-up by the Israeli air force on Saturday, enjoyed a visit by Egypt’s prime minister, who spoke of Israeli “aggression” and seemed to express full solidarity with Hamas for the eventual “liberation of Palestine.”

Keeping an eye on President Barack Obama’s list of phone conversations about the Gaza crisis, we can see efforts by Obama to persuade Egypt and Turkey to use whatever influence they have over Hamas to push for a ceasefire.

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[Yossi Melman]

Here are my observations:

1.Israel is very reluctant to move into Gaza with a ground attack.  The mobilization of reservists, with a call-up of a stunningly large number, 75,000, authorized by the cabinet, is mainly for psychological purposes — to increase pressure on Hamas.  It appears that there is a tacit agreement, apparently with President Obama, to delay any invasion for a few days to give ceasefire efforts a chance.  Official descriptions of the latest Obama-Netanyahu phone conversation said one topic was “de-escalation.”

2. The chances of a ceasefire have increased in the past day.  As long as Hamas might find a way to announce some kind of victory, the organization may agree to stop launching rockets atIsrael.  Hamas appears to be suffering tremendous losses.

Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Erdogan is visiting Cairo today (Saturday), and for him this is an opportunity to boost his chances of becoming a highly influential power center in theMiddle East.  President Obama spoke with Erdogan and with the still-new president of Egypt, Mohammed Morsi.  America’s hope would be that Morsi would use his Muslim Brotherhood credentials to persuade Hamas to stop this round of warfare.

A senior prince from Qatar is also said to be part of the Turkish-Egyptian talks in Cairo.  Qatar has influence with Hamas and has donated $400 million to development projects in Gaza.  A political chief of Hamas who is usually headquartered in Damascus, Khaled Meshaal, is also said to be part of the Cairo talks; along with Ramadan Shlah, a leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad which actually sparked the recent escalation by launching rockets from Gaza into Israel.  The United States has a behind-the-scenes role.

3. If there is no ceasefire in the next 72 hours (by Tuesday), Netanyahu might order the IDF to invade Gaza.  A ground attack would be very dangerous, greatly increasing the risk of casualties among civilians and Israeli soldiers.  A ground war inside Gaza might also trigger three developments: decreasing support among Israelis for their government, during the run-up to the January 22 voting when Netanyahu is determined to be re-elected; vastly increasing pressure on Israel by the international community; and prompting Egypt and Jordan — the two Arab countries that have peace treaties with Israel – to embrace severe sanctions against Israel,  perhaps far beyond Egypt’s recent withdrawal of its ambassador from Tel Aviv.

For more on this story, see Al-Monitor.comhttp://backchannel.al-monitor.com/index.php/2012/11/3237/cairo-hosts-gaza-mediation-talks-as-parties-seek-to-avert-israeli-invasion/

 

 

November 18, 2012

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