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August 18, 2020 5:13 am

Can the Egyptians Cool Things Down in Southern Israel?

avatar by Yoav Limor / JNS.org

Opinion

A view shows a crowd and shops at Al Ataba market, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Cairo, Egypt July 16, 2020. Photo: REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany.

JNS.orgAfter a few rough days in the country’s south, there was some cautious optimism in Israel on Monday, based on two main factors: the arrival of an Egyptian security mission to the Palestinians and the relative drop in the number of incendiary balloons launched into Israel from the Gaza Strip on Sunday.

The second factor should be taken with a grain of salt and monitored over the coming days, but the Egyptian delegation is significant, as it has had experience in calming tensions over the years. The Egyptian contingent was in Ramallah for talks on Sunday with the Palestinian Authority, and it is expected to continue to Gaza in an effort to lower the flames between Hamas and Israel.

In internal discussions held over the past few days within the Israeli defense establishment, there is a belief among analysts that Hamas has no interest in escalating the situation throughout Gaza. The prevailing opinion is that the recent surge in violence is mainly due to the financial distress in the enclave, and is part of Hamas’ effort to overcome it, at least partially. The organization is interested — alongside the continuation of Qatari funding for as long as possible — in renewing a series of civilian projects in an attempt to boost the morale of Gaza residents, and is also interested in once again getting the attention of the international community, which has shifted to Lebanon after the disaster in Beirut.

Israel is willing to move towards Hamas on this issue, but only after a complete cessation of cross-border attacks from Gaza.

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In the meantime, Israel has significantly intensified the economic and military pressure on the Strip over the past few days. In addition to the Israeli Air Force striking Hamas targets in Gaza in response to the attacks emanating from the Strip, Israel also temporarily shuttered the Kerem Shalom border crossing, closed Gaza’s fishing zone, and cut the amount of fuel it transfers to Gaza.

These steps directly affect the residents of the Strip and Hamas indirectly. Less fuel means fewer hours of electricity, fewer goods means less economic activity, and less fishing means real distress on the Gazan street. It is doubtful whether Hamas will be able to withstand the internal pressure for long; and that is exactly what Israel is hoping for — that it will order the cessation of the cross-border attacks, allowing calm to return to the western Negev communities.

But even if the Egyptians manage to bridge the two sides, whatever agreement is reached will be fragile and temporary. Israel conditions any progress toward a long-term agreement on the return of its captured and missing soldiers and citizens. Officials involved in talks on this matter are doubtful this is even possible at the moment, due to the considerable demands of Hamas, to which Israel is unwilling to give in. Progress will only be possible if Hamas shows “significant flexibility,” they say.

Meanwhile, Israel’s efforts focus on returning calm to the communities of the western Negev. The damage caused by the recent arson attacks is minor compared to those of 2018, but one must not underestimate their influence on the morale of area residents.

As always, they show resilience and durability, but it would be best for the state to assist them in any way it can — from the widening of Route 232 to canceling the outrageous demand that farmers in the area fund the laying of a new water pipe in the area — and strengthen them ahead of the next rounds of violence that are expected in the area.

Yoav Limor is a veteran Israeli journalist and columnist for Israel Hayom. This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.

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