On Tuesday morning, a delegation of Egyptian intelligence officers arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport, headed by the chief of the “Palestine Department,” General Omar Halfi. The group of Israeli officers waiting for them drove them directly to the Defense Ministry’s Tel Aviv headquarters for talks with the upper echelons of the defense establishment, in an attempt to find a way to reduce the growing tensions in the Gaza Strip, ahead of an explosion of violence.
The Egyptians came up with a list of Israeli commitments to improve living conditions in Gaza: water, electricity, expanding fishing areas, increasing the amount of goods coming from Israel, and so on. But the following day, when the Egyptians went to Gaza with the Israeli proposals in hand, it became clear that they were insufficient.
And so Qatar’s envoy to the region, Mohammed al-Emadi, found himself summoned to the region on Wednesday because Hamas demanded an increase in Gaza’s monthly Qatari stipend from $15 million to $20 million. It also emerged that the planned work that the United Nations was supposed to organize in the Gaza Strip had yet to begin.
And so the Egyptians went to Gaza on Wednesday with a partial package. Last week, they tried to do their bit to ease tensions by releasing eight Hamas prisoners, but contrary to expectations, Hamas did not use this release to hold mass celebrations that would highlight the achievements of the organization’s leadership. What Hamas wants is water and power, and it wants them now. It is demanding the immediate activation of Israel’s Electric Corporation’s plan to supply electricity to Gaza.
The impact of the last round of Egyptian mediation efforts will be seen in the weekend protests at the Israel-Gaza border fence: If the violence escalates, Gaza will not accept the Israeli-Egyptian proposal to calm the situation. If the tensions remain at their current levels, there is still room for compromise. At the moment, both sides are one step away from the abyss. One small trigger, and we will find ourselves in a real conflict.
This fragile situation also has another major factor that could up-end the entire table: It appears that for now Israel and Hamas in Gaza have a common enemy: Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
Islamic Jihad was responsible for most of the rocket, anti-tank missiles and sniper attacks carried out in recent months against Israel. Its leaders, who are hiding in the Dahiya neighborhood of Beirut under the leadership of deputy secretary-general Ziad al-Nahla, have decided to renew military activity from the Gaza Strip. The organization’s representatives in Gaza also stopped coordinating their military activities with Hamas, as part of a joint war room set up by all the terrorist organizations in the Strip.
And so Hamas today finds itself facing off against an intransigent organization that acts in contravention to its agenda. Islamic Jihad is making sure to carry out its military provocations on the days when Hamas is conducting some sort of dialogue with Israel or with Egypt regarding arrangements in the Strip – and when they attack, Israel retaliates with attacks on Hamas installations.
One can make the fair assumption that if there are any signs of any constructive progress between Israel and Hamas towards the end of the week, Islamic Jihad will try to sabotage it. It is enough for one mercenary sniper to hit one Israeli for Gaza to burn. But when Israel does not deal with the Islamic Jihad threat, it encourages increased anarchy in Gaza, which will ultimately lead to a ground invasion by the IDF.
Hamas, for its part, is waging an ineffective battle against the renegade organization. Several days ago, for example, Hamas’s internal security apparatus arrested Hashem Salem, an Islamic Jihad member who converted from Sunni to Shiite Islam, and established a pro-Iranian organization in the Gaza Strip. That’s how it starts: Today it’s a small charity, funded by Iran, which supports widows and orphans, but if we do not pay attention, tomorrow that charity will be yet another Iranian military organization in Gaza.
Hamas understands the danger inherent in the pro-Iranian organizations, but in Israel, Islamic Jihad is only regarded as a secondary enemy. While Hamas is a political movement, Islamic Jihad is a military one. It does not recognize the PLO as a representative of the Palestinian people, and it sees itself as a fighting elite unit with the aim of liberating Palestine, and now has more rockets in the Gaza Strip than Hamas. And this is what will set the Israel-Gaza border aflame.