Even before the scheduled end of the Israel-Hamas ceasefire at midnight, explosions erupted on Tuesday night — and the most significant was a long-distance assassination attempt by Israel.
Hamas said Mohammed Deif, the commander of its military wing, was the target of an airstrike that destroyed a house in Gaza City. Arab media said Deif’s wife and young child were killed. (It was not immediately clear whether Deif survived.)
A barrage of Hamas missiles — imprecisely aimed at Tel Aviv and at Ben-Gurion International Airport — was considered a retaliation for the assassination attempt. Dozens of rockets failed to kill any Israelis or cause significant damage.
And what of the negotiations in Cairo, where Egyptian mediators (with barely hidden advice from the United States) struggled mightily for a deal between Israel and Hamas?
Israeli officials say the head of the political wing of Hamas — Khaled Meshaal, who does his work from a hotel suite in far-off Qatar — intentionally sabotaged the negotiations, because he wants a united Arab stand to make much tougher demands. To show that Hamas gained something from this Gaza war, the radical Palestinian movement insists that a seaport and an airport should be opened quickly — while Israel and Egypt end the “siege” which strictly controls border entries and exits.
The core of the Meshaal obstacle, however, was his ego. He appeared to be fighting for his honor, more than fighting for Hamas or the wider Palestinian people.
As the negotiations limped toward their latest deadline — after several extensions that were difficult for Egypt to arrange — Israel’s government honestly did not know what the outcome would be.
If Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or Defense Minister Moshe (Bogie) Ya’alon knew, then they were not sharing that knowledge with the public — and not even with the rest of the cabinet. Ministers felt left out, and that was never going to increase Netanyahu’s chance of getting the cabinet’s backing for any deals that might be complicated or concession-filled.
It turns out that the basic Egyptian concept was — and is — to have an indefinite extension of the ceasefire, with the Israelis and Palestinians promising to hold serious, comprehensive negotiations in a month’s time. Israel and Egypt, though clearly not feeling that Gaza has become moderate or stable enough to have full shipping and flight rights, agreed not to veto the seaport and airport concept.