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Egyptian Officials Tell Hamas: Escalation Against Israel Harms Our Security

Almost four months have passed since the end of Operation Pillar of Defense, and  Southern Israel is learning to live under new circumstances with which it’s scarcely familiar: quiet from the Gaza Strip.

This time it’s not a just a fragile period of calm in which the odd Qassam rocket or mortar is still periodically lobbed at Israel, as was the case immediately after Operation Cast Lead in early 2009. This time, it has been real, total quiet. It’s difficult to identify even a single bullet that’s been fired at Israel since November 22, and it’s equally difficult to recall a similar situation in Gaza. Certainly not over the last 12 years.

The reasons for these circumstances are many, but the main one is simple: the three main actors in the arena – Egypt, Hamas and Israel – have a clear interest in maintaining the ceasefire and stabilizing the security situation in the border area.

Egypt’s Red Line

Egypt’s interest in stabilizing the region has led it to take a number of steps it had previously and to varying degrees resisted.

First, Egyptian forces have fanned out across the Sinai Peninsula. The deployment of security forces has brought positive developments, and there have been waves of terrorist arrests alongside thwarted smuggling operations. The Israelis would like to see more action against the international jihadists who have taken up residence in Sinai, but nonetheless officials in Jerusalem say that a real improvement has taken place.

The improvement is measurable, from Israel’s perspective, inasmuch as the Egyptians have largely been able to prevent the entry of long-range missiles into the Gaza Strip since the end of Operation Pillar of Defense, preventing Hamas from resupplying its arsenal.

Just this week Egyptian forces flooded a few tunnels in Rafah used for weapons smuggling. The Egyptians’ objective is not to close the tunnels completely, but only to block those that present a security threat to Egypt and Israel. And while the diplomatic disconnect between Cairo and Jerusalem continues, security cooperation remains in place, with some in Israel suggesting it is as good as it has ever been since the 1979 peace treaty.

Egyptian authorities tell  that they have warned Hamas that every escalation with Israel is liable to bring harm to Egyptian national security and that, from their perspective, is a red line Hamas must dare not cross.

Hamas’s Self-Declared Victory

Oddly enough, Hamas’s interest in maintaining the quiet stems from its desire to successfully brand itself to the Palestinian public as the victor of its recent confrontation with Israel. The organization believes it has convinced West Bankers, and to a lesser extent, Gazans, that it not only survived militarily, but caused Israel to ask – even nearly beg – for a ceasefire.  Obviously, given the lack of rocket and other attacks coming from Gaza since the end of the 8-day conflict, Israeli officials see that as the real victory.

For many Gazans, however, the ceasefire was seen as a rare achievement notched by the “resistance.”

The implications of that achievement on the political front were immediate. Hamas’s popularity in the territories skyrocketed and the Palestinian Authority was forced to seek reconciliation with the group. In recent months Hamas has even managed to force a ceasefire on all of Gaza’s various armed groups, including those affiliated with worldwide jihadi movements.

On the diplomatic front, Hamas has registered no-less significant achievements. The heads of state of Qatar, Malaysia, and soon Turkey say they plan to make their way to the Strip, some bringing aid packages worth millions of dollars – amounts the Palestinian Authority can these days only dream of pocketing.

Hamas is also buoyed by the fact that The Muslim Brotherhood-led regime in Cairo views Hamas as allies. Every few weeks a Hamas delegation leaves for Cairo, meets with the Egyptian intelligence heads and gives them a list of demands meant to ease the humanitarian situation in Gaza. Those requests are transmitted indirectly to Israel by Egyptian officials, who meet periodically with visiting Israeli security officials sent to Cairo to be informed of Egypt’s discussion with Hamas and present its own ideas. The last such Israeli delegation visited Egypt this week, headed by Brig. Gen. Eitan Dangot, Israel’s coordinator of government activities in the territories (COGAT).

Hamas’s boasts of victory may indeed be objectively tenuous, but if the terrorist organization’s inflated sense of self-worth secures the long-term end to rocket fire that southern Israel is currently enjoying, it seems to be in everyone’s interest to let Hamas continue boasting.

[Photo: irreview / YouTube]