March 11, 2008, 1:07 PM (GMT+02:00)
Despite Israeli and Hamas denials of an accord, DEBKAfile's Middle East sources report that the Egyptian intelligence minister Gen. Omar Suleiman has brokered an informal ceasefire and obtained Israel's non-rejection of a reopened Rafah crossing from Gaza to Sinai. The calm on the Gaza-Israel border went into its third day Monday, March 11.
Prime minister Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak, when they denied secret talks with Hamas, were technically correct. The two sides did not meet; the Egyptians shuttled between them. And since no documents were formally signed, the deal can be repudiated at any time. Israelis living within missile range of Gaza fear from long experience that the Palestinian rule of terror is not over and Hamas is simply exploiting a welcome respite to recuperate, re-arm and regroup.
Our sources report that Cairo agreed to open the Rafah crossing for a few hours a day to meet "requirements in Gaza," a welcome concession to Hamas and well worth its two promises:
1. As long as the new arrangement is in force, Hamas will not knock over the new border wall Egypt is building along the 13-km Philadelphi route. This wall will be 3 meters thick with a guard tower every 90 meters.
2. Hamas will refrain from digging new arms smuggling tunnels but did not agree to stop using existing underground routes. Amos Gilead, political adviser at Israel's defense minister, who was in Cairo Sunday, March 10, accordingly countered with this caveat: Israel reserves the freedom to resume military attacks if Hamas goes back to firing missiles or uses the tunnels to smuggle in new weapons supplies.
The trouble with this deal, say senior Israeli officers, is that it is too full of holes to last. On the one hand, as long as Hamas and Jihad Islami are not shooting missiles and rockets at Israel, the IDF has no cause to hit back. The list of targets which the Israeli cabinet drew up last week for the next round of attacks – Hamas leaders and terrorist infrastructure – has therefore been put on ice. But Israel has no way of telling if and when Hamas uses the smuggling tunnels. Incoming intelligence on these smuggling activities is received after – sometimes long after - the event. Egypt and Hamas may dispute Israel's information and the wrangling can go on for weeks.
Furthermore, say the Israeli officers, by accepting the reopening of the Gaza-Egyptian border crossing, Israel has agreed to the unrestricted passage of members of Palestinian armed groups to and from Tehran, Damascus and Beirut.
Hamas has promised Egypt not to smuggle weapons and explosives through Rafah, but officers familiar with Hamas' practices are sure they have no intention of standing by this promise.
All in all, Israeli military sources conclude that the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire arrangement has forced Israel to tacitly accept the end of the international siege of Hamas-ruled Gaza, a significant victory for the Islamist Palestinian group.
Its erosion began last week when Israel allowed hundreds of trucks to transit two crossings with "essential products" for the population, at the insistence of visiting US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice. The convoys were not stopped, even when they came under Palestinian fire and an attempt was made to smuggle from the West Bank substances used for making missile explosives concealed in cans of edible oil.
The US and Israel long ago gave up on the security measures, which Rice brokered after Israel's 2005 pull-back, for European monitors to man the Rafah terminal and surveillance cameras linked to Israel installed there. Following these precedents, Egyptian and Hamas pressure will build up to withdraw security measures from all Israeli crossings into Gaza as well.
DEBKAfile - We start where the media stop
Copyright 2000-2007 DEBKAfile. All Rights Reserved.