20 December 2018

If it is Tuesday, it’s armistice day. Review on a postponed conflict

Laurenţiu Sfinteş

Image source: Mediafax

Unexpected meeting, in south of Gaza Strip, between a Hamas patrol and an Israeli infiltrated unit almost started a new Israeli-Palestinian conflict● 470 Hamas missiles were launched in only 48 hours ● Prime-minister Netanyahu chose to continue the agreement and accepted the armistice● Israeli Minister of Defence, Avigdor Lieberman, resigned ● Hamas chose to wait for better times for a confrontation.

Because Friday was too peaceful, with a reduced presence of Gaza’s protestants close to the security fence which separates it from Israel, and because the Egyptian’s and special coordinator of UN for the Peace Process in Middle East, the Bulgarian Nikolai Mladenov, mediation seemed to work, Israel and Hamas leadership agreeing over some measures to decrease part of the tension accumulated in the last months, something had to occur.

And so it did. Sunday. Work day for the Palestinians, as well as for the Jewish. An Israeli military subunit infiltrated in Gaza to place a surveillance recording device, according to a series of media sources, of course fulfilling a military task, met with a Hamas patrol. All of this ended with killing an Israeli officer, seven Hamas soldiers being also annihilated in a gunfight and after the air intervention which ensured Israeli militaries’ withdrawal.

The second day (the infiltration operation happened during the night), the Chief of the General Staff of the Israeli Defence Forces, general lieutenant Gadi Eisenkot, stated that it was an “extremely important operation for Israel’s security”. A justification was needed for the murder of a superior officer in an operation which was deployed outside the borders and also an argument that the incident had to be treated as an isolated one. Meanwhile, although Hamas leaders were so firm in showing the new option for moderation and dialogue, being more directed towards the economic dividends of an agreement with Israel, decided to show that there are also enough military resources in Gaza for a conflict.

The way the Palestinian missile duel against the Israeli air strikes have deployed shows Hamas’s military decision sophistication, which Israeli analysts will surely comment in the following period:

  • although it is obvious that an agreement with Israel, which allow a sort of economic comeback for Gaza Strip is necessary and, on an internal plan, seen as a victory for Hamas, the organization risked, from the point of view of the military actions, and did not lose;
  • the amplitude of the Hamas attack was higher than the registered level in the conflict from 2014. Now were launched, daily, twice or more missiles than in the most intense days of the previous conflict. At that time, the plan was to extend the conflict as much as possible, saving the missiles launched daily (between 50 and 150), now the decision was to send a force message (470 missiles in two days), within a limited time. Most of the launched missiles were intercepted by Iron Dome system, other hundreds backfired on vacant fields or in the desert (Hamas leaders state that they did not want to attack the villages, but to send the force message), but there were also some missiles which hit houses, public institutions, provoked the migration of the population close to Gaza Strip’s border;
  •  getting closer to Israel’s general elections, either on term or anticipated, created an opportunity for Hamas, which, after understanding what political competences have the main parties against a possible conflict, it understood also that Prime-minister Netanyahu does not want a confrontation before the ballot. His position is too good in surveys, he does not need something to destabilize Likud’s chances to get a better number than at the previous elections.

A war always comes with surprises, especially one which is developing half overtly, half inside, half out. The Prime-minister actually explained why he chose the second half: “In times of crisis, when making crucial decisions in the field of security, the public cannot always be a partner in the crucial considerations that must be concealed from the enemy”. Prime-minister’s statements were made during a ceremony to honor the founder of Israel’s state, David Ben-Gurion, as a guarantee that the chief of the Israeli executive chose peace despite the possible critics. Defending the completed armistice, on Wednesday, Netanyahu offered a justification: “Hamas leaders begged for an agreement… And they know why”.

Prime-minister’s option to continue the negotiations with Hamas and to sign an armistice, which allows discussions for a possible peace agreement between Israel and Hamas, was not shared by the defence minister, Avigdor Lieberman. After the Israeli army fought back by striking more than 160 targets in Gaza Strip, among them being also the head office of the Hamas television,  Al Aqsa, the Home Forces Commission from Gaza capital, but also other four targets IDF qualified as of “strategic interest”, showing an extraordinary accuracy of the strikes, with only few victims, Minister Lieberman called the response “too weak”. Then, he presented his resignation, which comes into force in 48 hours. Friday.

Detached, as media noticed, Lieberman announced that his resignation will be followed by the resignations of the five deputies of the group he leads, Yisrael Beiteinu/ “Israel, our home”, from the governing coalition. This will bring the majority Netanyahu can count on, only one vote away from the inferior limit of a parliamentary majority. The press statement from Wednesday was also a political manifest, the Minister reminding about the disagreements he had with the Prime-minister in managing the conflict in Gaza, but also demanding anticipated elections, saying that probably his party will get 20 mandates in the future Knesset.

The resignation was received with joy manifestations in Gaza. It did not take long for the Hamas leaders to say that the armistice is, actually, a victory. The Israeli Minister of Tourism, Yariv Levin, states that the resignation is a “gift for Hamas”. Meanwhile, Sami Abu Zahri, an important Hamas leader said that it is just a “recognition of the defeat”.

What actually happened was Avigdor Lieberman’s last-moment attempt to recover a part of the right-wing electorate, and the Israeli political scene is overcrowded on this sector. The main competitor on this field, Naftali Bennet, the leader of “Habait Hayehudi/Jewish Home” party, accused him for showing weakness in managing the relation with Hamas and offered himself to take the position of Minister of Defence. Otherwise…he will withdraw also from the governing coalition. This would actually complicate things more for Prime-minister Netanyahu, because we are talking about six parliamentarians, and would only mean a minus five for the rest of the coalition in Knesset’s arithmetic. To clear things out, one of party’s leaders, Mrs. Shuli Moalem, posted on Twitter the following message: “without defence’s portfolio, the Jewish Home will no longer continue its activity in the actual government”.

Considering that the right-wing seems too attractive for the Israeli electorate, even the leader of a central party, Yair Lapid, president of Yesh Atid/” We have a future” party, felt the need to fortify the message against Hamas: “They do not understand anything but force, and we are not using it. If I were prime-minister, Ismail Haniyeh (Hamas’ political leader) would instantly be killed. We have to go back to punctual assassinates”.

The Israeli left-wing also tried to use the occasion to mark an electoral point, but parliamentarians’ Meretz / “Vigor” visit, along with party’s leader, Mrs. Tamar Zandberg, in Israeli villages placed at the border with the Gaza Strip, only ended with a tense meeting with Siderot city’s inhabitants, having the protection of the police.


  • Friday had a decreased intensity regarding Palestinian’s protests at the border with Israel;
  • Saturday, many of Gaza’s inhabitants, who received, thanks to Qatar, the owed salaries for July, went to shisha, at the seaside;
  • Sunday, a Hamas patrol greeted with “Salam!” an Israeli infiltrated group, and they incorrectly answered back with “Shalom!”, which started a serious fight gun and a forced withdrawal, under air forces protection;
  • Starting with Sunday night and up to Tuesday, the sides continuously, but also carefully, in order to avoid human loses, attacked the objectives from each other’s territories;
  • Tuesday, Hamas group announced that an armistice has been signed;
  • Wednesday, Israel admits and agrees, but the Israeli Minister of Defence resigns.

The Armistice/” hudna” works, the war got postponed. For Hamas, the following period is called “tahadyia”/ “peaceful” period. The ex-leader of the movement, sheik Ahmed Yassin, killed in 2004 during the “preventive assassinates” policy used by Israeli forces, promoted this approach to end the confrontations during the second Intifada. The negotiations in that period were also made with Egyptian mediation. In “tahadyia’s” accepted meaning, when the enemy/Israel is too strong and cannot be defeated, Hamas needs a peaceful period, to get back on track. This tactic is known among the political leaders and Israeli militaries.

Still, considering the circumstances, like the elections, the not-so-good media image, the armistice was welcomed in Jerusalem also. Another hold-back element for the Israeli part could be the US announcement for an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan which, surely, will answer Israel’s demands. A collateral conflict, with an unpredictable deployment, would only complicate the negotiations and move away this announcement.