U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr announced a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas during a Nov. 21 news conference in Cairo. The cease-fire is expected to begin at 9 p.m. local time. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly told U.S. President Barack Obama that he is willing to give the Egyptian-brokered cease-fire a chance.
This cessation of violence is likely highly tenuous. Israel will agree to a truce only if it has guarantees from Egypt — overseen by the United States — that the Palestinian arsenal of Fajr-5 long-range rockets will be neutralized and that measures will be taken to prevent future weapons transfers to Gaza. It remains to be seen what details surface on this core Israeli demand, especially given its incompatability with Hamas' demand for the blockade on Gaza to be lifted.
There is also the outstanding issue of Iran, which Israel has pointed to as the center of gravity in the conflict. The Fajr-5 rockets are Iranian-made, and Iran facilitated the movement of those weapons into Gaza. Iran may have an interest in prolonging the conflict and could try to use militant levers in Gaza to derail the truce. Israel must also contend with the broader dilemma of future Iranian attempts to smuggle advanced weaponry into Gaza. This is where Egyptian cooperation with Israel on border security becomes crucial.
If the cease-fire holds, Hamas is within reach of a major symbolic victory. It will have avoided devastation of the group in Gaza and can claim a capability to strike the Israeli heartland.
We must watch now if Hamas honors the cease-fire and if the organization will have the authority to enforce the cease-fire among other groups, namely Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Until Israel has a guarantee on the Fajr-5s and a cessation of rocket fire, it is unlikely to forgo the option of a military ground operation.