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Hamas leaders Yahya Sinwar and Ismail Haniyeh at the Gaza border protests, March 30, 2019

Israel and Hamas owe Egypt their gratitude

Analysis: The flare-up in Gaza last week seems to be ending in a new agreement that will guarantee calm along the border, for a while at least; and while the UN and Qatar played their part, the real debt is to the Egyptian intelligence officer who drove the process forward

Saturday saw the largest demonstration since the March of Return protests began a year ago. More than 40,000 people took part, despite the inclement weather. Three Palestinians were killed during confrontations with Israeli troops, and another died of his injuries Saturday morning after being wounded during an attack on a Hamas position.

 

 

Ten months ago, a similar demonstration took place in the Gaza Strip on Nakba Day. It ended with more than 60 dead and Hamas did not fire a single rocket in retaliation.


Palestinians clash with IDF troops at the Gaza border during the March of Return protests, March 30, 2019 (Photo: EPA)
Palestinians clash with IDF troops at the Gaza border during the March of Return protests, March 30, 2019 (Photo: EPA)

This time four people were killed and the response came in the form of five rockets fired into open areas in the Gaza border area. The IDF responded with a number of artillery strikes on observation posts along the fence - the most minor response in its toolbox. Both sides claimed victory, and thus on Sunday morning were able to return to negotiations on the understandings that will lead to a period of calm.

 

So what has changed? One word - Egypt. At the Nakba Day demonstration, senior Egyptian intelligence officials were not in the area. Hamas let everyone run wild and it ended with dozens dead.

 


Palestinians clash with IDF troops at the Gaza border during the March of Return protests, March 30, 2019 (Photo: Haim Horenstein) (Photo: Haim Horenstein)
Palestinians clash with IDF troops at the Gaza border during the March of Return protests, March 30, 2019 (Photo: Haim Horenstein)

In the past 72 hours, the Egyptians have not taken a break from their shuttle diplomacy between Tel Aviv and Gaza, seeking to prevent a repeat of last week and a possible military operation - and in the end everyone was able to breathe a sigh of relief. There was also relief in the office of Yahya Sinwar (Haniyeh's no longer exists) in Gaza and in the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem.

 

   

By Thursday night, Hamas had done everything possible to bring out as many people as possible to the demonstrations, including holding talks with the heads of local clans to ensure maximum turnout in the field. But by Friday afternoon, according to a source in Gaza, the tables were turned upside down.

 

Hamas was working with the clans to ensure that the march was not too successful. The organization wanted a large number of demonstrators at the fence, but not so many that they lost control.

 


Palestinians at the Gaza border during the March of Return protests, March 30, 2019 (Photo: AFP)
Palestinians at the Gaza border during the March of Return protests, March 30, 2019 (Photo: AFP)

 

As such, the heads of the clans were instructed to be there but to water down their attendance at the demonstrations. At the same time, some of the centers of activity were moved a few hundred meters back to ensure that most people remained at a distance.

 

And for the first time, stewards could be seen sporting orange tabards. They were Hamas civilian servants – the ones receiving the dollars brought into Gaza from Qatar - who were recruited for the purpose of keeping order.

 

 

Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar (C) at the Gaza border during the March of Return protests, March 30, 2019
Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar (C) at the Gaza border during the March of Return protests, March 30, 2019

 

The restraint more or less worked, and the demonstrations ended with a tolerable outcome for both sides. Furthermore, the Egyptians were in the area of the protests throughout the day - both overtly and covertly.

 

The understandings are the child of many parents, with Egypt as the fair broker, Qatar as the ATM, the United Nations as the contractor and Israel as the green light for bringing it everything into the Gaza Strip – the money and construction materials, fuel for the power station and another stretch of sea off the Gaza coast for fishing.

 

Yahya Sinwar (L) and Ismail Haniyeh (C) at the March of Return protests in Gaza, March 30, 2019
Yahya Sinwar (L) and Ismail Haniyeh (C) at the March of Return protests in Gaza, March 30, 2019

 

For its part, Hamas is supposed to end the nighttime confrontations it has identified as the soft belly of Israel, as well as the incendiary devices attached to balloons. The March of Return protests will continue, but, according to the understandings, are expected to be non-violent.

 

Deputy Hamas leader Saleh al-Arouri, who lives in Beirut and is not seen as particularly dovish, announced at the end of the Saturday demonstrations that he expects the agreement to be finalized and signed in the coming days. And if al-Arouri is saying it, then that's probably the direction in which this is headed. Even so, it is vital to en sure that Islamic Jihad and its leader Ziad Nahala are also pleased with the emerging deal.

 

 

Egyptian intelligence officer Gen. Ahmed Abdel-Khalek and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh
Egyptian intelligence officer Gen. Ahmed Abdel-Khalek and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh

 

If this is indeed the case, then the matter should be settled by the middle of the week - until the next flare up. And if not, Hamas always has next Friday, four days before the polls open, to pin Israel against the wall. Sinwar knows it, the IDF knows it and the Egyptians know it.

 

Meanwhile, Israel should be sending a thank you bouquet to Ahmed Abdel-Khalek, the Egyptian intelligence officer who mans the Palestinian desk, who is very much responsible for the fact that at this very moment Israel and Hamas are not deep into yet another round of violence.

 


פרסום ראשון: 03.31.19, 11:22
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