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Nov 16, 2012 | 15:57 GMT

Israel: Conflict Continues as Egypt Seeks Cease-Fire

MARCO LONGARI/AFP/Getty Images
Summary

Hamas appears to be relatively confident on the third day of hostilities with Israel. In the past several hours, the Izz al-Deen al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, claimed it launched a long-range Fajr-5 rocket at Tel Aviv and another at Jerusalem. Israel Defense Forces confirmed that a rocket was fired at Tel Aviv, though it missed and landed in the sea. Explosions and sirens are currently being reported in Jerusalem.

In the meantime, an Egyptian delegation traveled to Gaza on Nov. 16 and has been trying to negotiate a cease-fire. It is likely that Israel is testing the Muslim Brotherhood leadership in Egypt to see how far it will go to control Hamas and preserve the peace treaty with Israel. The outcome of the conflict is largely up to Egypt at this point.

It is unclear how many long-range Fajr-5 rockets Hamas has left, but the Israeli military claims the bulk of the rockets were destroyed in the initial airstrikes. The size of these rocket systems — around 6 meters (20 feet) long and weighing about 900 kilograms (2,000 pounds) — make them highly vulnerable to detection when deployed, meaning Israel can theoretically achieve a great deal in winnowing down Hamas' supply from the air so long as Hamas chooses to continue deploying them.

However, a ground operation would likely be needed to comprehensively secure the storage sites for the Fajr-5 rockets and would necessitate incursions into densely populated urban sprawls such as Gaza City, where Israel Defense Forces would be forced into urban fighting with Hamas. In this situation, the IDF would face the possibility of elevated casualties because it would be engaging a dug-in Hamas with superior knowledge of the terrain. This is a scenario that Israel will likely want to avoid, but if the Fajrs continue to threaten Israel's main urban cities, it will probably pursue the ground operation. Indeed, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon announced Nov. 16 that Israeli ground troops will move into Gaza in one or two days unless rocket fire stops.

Visit our Israel page for related analysis, videos, situation reports and maps.

A Hamas source claims that the group's supply of Fajr rockets is dwindling but that Hamas fighters are maintaining a decent tempo in launching short-range Qassam and Grad rockets from a distance by remote control. In addition to tracing and targeting launch sites after a rocket is launched, Israel must also attempt to find and destroy the launching crews, which, because they can fire the rockets remotely, have been using the Palestinian population as protection. Because of their limited range, the Qassam and Grad rockets will be directed at southern Israel as opposed to major Israeli population centers, while Israeli counterstrikes against launching crews in population centers would carry a high political toll.

All eyes are now on Egypt to see whether Cairo has the ability to mediate a cease-fire and eliminate the need for an Israeli ground incursion. In addition to eliminating Hamas' long-range rocket arsenal, Israel has an additional incentive to apply military pressure on Gaza. The rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo has produced a great deal of uncertainty in Israel over how far Egypt would go now in maintaining its peace treaty with Israel. Since the Muslim Brotherhood derives its support primarily from the street, it is much more sensitive to public outrage over unpopular policies intended to ensure cooperation with Israel, such as those carried out by the former regime, including closing down tunnels and border crossings between Sinai and the Gaza Strip. From Israel's point of view, Hamas would not have been able to acquire a supply of Fajr-5 rockets from Iran through weapons depots in Sudan had Egypt maintained tighter control over the border crossings.

Egyptian diplomats have privately revealed that they feel Israel is putting them to the test to see how far Egypt under Muslim Brotherhood leadership will go to rein in Hamas. After all, the Egyptian Brotherhood does not want Israeli troops in Gaza any more than Israel does. The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood derives political benefits from publicly supporting Hamas, but those benefits would be eroded once Israeli troops came into close contact with Egyptian forces, putting Egypt under more immediate pressure to crack down on the border.

Egyptian Prime Minister Hesham Kandil's Nov. 16 visit to Gaza was a publicity stunt on the surface to demonstrate solidarity with Palestinians in the face of Israeli aggression. Less publicized was that Egypt's intelligence service chief, Maj. Gen. Mohamed Raafat Shehata, was part of the delegation and was on a mission to negotiate a cease-fire. Those negotiations appear to still be in progress, though Hamas so far is not giving any indication that it is easing off rocket attacks, including long-range attacks against Tel Aviv and Jerusalem with Fajr-5s. The direction of this conflict largely lies in Egypt's hands at this point. In the meantime, Israel will be preparing for a ground operation.

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