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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Potential Cease-Fire and the New Regional Dynamic

Update By Stratfor

Summary

The proliferation of players in the current Israeli-Hamas cease-fire negotiations highlight the major shift in the regional strategic environment since the fall of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, calling into question the sustainability of any potential truce.

Analysis 

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be in Israel overnight Nov. 20 and rumors are rapidly spreading of an imminent cease-fire agreement. Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi has also confidently claimed Nov. 20 that "the war will end today," but statements out of Israel have been far more reserved. The Times of Israel, citing Egyptian intelligence officials, reported that Israel has rejected the cease-fire draft and that there will no news conference announcing a cease-fire tonight. 

The core dilemma remains: If Hamas or any other Palestinian entity can threaten Israel's major population centers with long-range Fajr-5 rockets, what guarantees can Egypt or another third party make to neutralize that supply and prevent further shipments? The fact that another Fajr-5 rocket was fired at Jerusalem on Nov. 20 while thousands of Israeli troops remain forward-deployed in preparation for a ground invasion adds urgency to this question. 

Stratfor has learned that the Egyptian cease-fire proposal that Clinton will be studying with the Israelis entails an agreement by the major Palestinian factions to cease rocket attacks against Israel. In return, Egypt would send monitors to Gaza to enforce the cease-fire -- though no details were provided on whether Egypt would secure or remove the remaining rockets from Gaza and what Egypt would do to prevent replenishments from entering Gaza if the border is reopened. Israel would discontinue its policy of targeted killings and, at a later stage, would allow the opening of the Rafah crossing on a regular basis. Rumors continue to percolate on the terms of the cease-fire proposal, and the above claims could not be verified, but these terms do fit with the likely parameters of the negotiation.

The problem is that Israel does not trust the Muslim Brotherhood-led government to enforce the cease-fire agreement. As a result, the United States is taking a more active role in the negotiation. Egyptian diplomatic sources are claiming that the Palestinian Fajr-5 rocket arsenal is dwindling, but will the United States play a role in verifying the Egyptian figures and removing the rockets from Gaza? What role, if any, will the United States play in monitoring the Sinai-Gaza border for future weapons shipments? That much remains unclear. The role of Egyptian intelligence and military figures from the Mubarak era is critical in these negotiations. Though the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood has been in the diplomatic spotlight, there are indications that Egyptian intelligence chief Mohamed Raafat Shehata has been heavily involved in the negotiations with Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Israel behind the scenes. Shehata is reportedly delivering a news conference this evening, at which point a truce may be announced. 

There is also another layer of complexity to factor in. Hamas is not the sole representative of the Palestinians in Cairo. Egyptian mediators have been negotiating with Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The latter, which has much closer links to Iran (which likely has an interest in prolonging the conflict), has claimed responsibility for firing several Fajr-5 rockets and is allegedly part of a joint military command with Hamas that is controlling the long-range rocket attacks. 

Stratfor sources in Egypt, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad have separately claimed that Palestinian Islamic Jihad is in control of at least some of the Iranian-made Fajr-5 rockets and launchers. If this is true, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad is not simply serving as a convenient front for Hamas, then Hamas' commitment to a cease-fire must involve Palestinian Islamic Jihad. To this end, Palestinian Islamic Jihad chief Ramadan Abdullah Mohammed Shallah has been in Cairo for negotiations over a cease-fire and has been dealing with both Hamas and Egypt. An Egyptian source claims that Morsi has held frequent meetings with Shallah in trying to obtain guarantees on a cessation of rocket attacks. For now, it appears those talks are bearing fruit and Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad are on the same page in moving toward a cease-fire. The questions now are whether Israel feels a ground operation is still necessary and whether it has exhausted the diplomatic negotiations to move ahead.

Gone are the days when Egyptian intelligence could mediate a truce between Israel and Hamas alone. The shifting dynamics over the past year -- from the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt to Hamas' decision to publicly distance itself from Iran and position itself in the Muslim Brotherhood orbit while receiving Iranian weapons transfers, to Iran's attempts to maintain leverage in the Levant through groups such as the Palestinian Islamic Jihad -- seem to be greatly complicating an already trying negotiation effort. 

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